People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have disrupted sleep and low blood oxygen levels. When obstructive sleep apnea occurs, the tongue is sucked against the back of the throat. This blocks the upper airway and airflow stops. When the oxygen level in the brain becomes low enough, the sleeper partially awakens, the obstruction in the throat clears, and the flow of air starts again, usually with a loud gasp.
Repeated cycles of decreased oxygenation lead to very serious cardiovascular problems. Additionally, these individuals suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, depression, and loss of concentration.
Some patients have obstructions that are less severe called Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS). In either case, the individuals suffer many of the same symptoms.
The first step in treatment resides in recognition of the symptoms and seeking appropriate consultation. The UT Dentistry Sleep Center is located in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. Dr Ann Larsen is the director of the sleep center and she can arrange a home sleep study to confirm the amount of cardiovascular compromise and decreased oxygenation levels you are experiencing. Depending on the severity and type of sleep disorder you have, various treatments can be instituted. For mild to moderate OSA, a dental appliance to protrude the lower jaw to relieve obstruction will be fitted.
In severe and more complex cases, a consultation with one of our oral and maxillofacial surgeons may be required to discuss a procedure that repositions the bones of the upper and lower jaws to increase the size of the airway (orthognathic surgery). This procedure is done in the hospital under general anesthesia and requires a one to two day overnight stay in the hospital.
OSA is a very serious condition that needs careful attention and treatment. Most major medical plans offer coverage for diagnosis and treatment.