How Common Is Sleep Apnea?

Dr. Barry Kurzer, DDS, says he first realized that sleep apnea really could affect anyone when he fell asleep behind the wheel of his car. Unfortunately, that first incident didn’t startle him enough into realizing that something was wrong with his body, and it took falling asleep behind the wheel for a second time before he decided to get things checked out. He signed up for a sleep study and soon thereafter found out he was suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnea.

That was 14 years ago, and since that time, the Midlothian dentist has slept soundly with a CPAP machine each night. A CPAP machine, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure, is the most common treatment method for sufferers of sleep apnea, a debilitating problem that can make it nearly impossible to get a full night’s sleep.

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a narrowing of the airway at the back of the throat. That airway can end up closing for a number of reasons, but the most common is when the tissue closes in and the sufferer ends up not getting enough air to his lungs. His oxygen saturation begins to drop, and the common symptom that most people’s spouses complain about begins—the snoring.

When the oxygen saturation level drops to a certain point, the sufferer will wake up. This happens continually through the night and causes sleep apnea sufferers to be unable to get a full night of sleep, according to Kurzer. Sleep apnea is much more common than most people think, and a large number of people who suffer from it go undiagnosed.

Now that Kurzer has been using a CPAP machine at night for a number of years, he says he can tell the difference during the day when he forgets to use the machine the night before. If he goes one night without using it for one reason or another, then he will feel very tired the next day.

Because of this experience, Kurzer has become a major advocate for sleep apnea diagnosis. For the most part, a dentist will see his patients once every four to six months, while a primary care physician might not meet up with a patient for a year at a time, or longer – which is why some dentists are in a good position to diagnose sleep apnea.

The angles at which a dentist looks inside a patient’s mouth during an oral exam allow him to get a sneak peak at what could be going on in the back of the throat during the night too, since dentists can usually tell if an airway is constricted during a basic semi-annual check up.

Kurzer explains that he is an advocate not only for proper diagnosis, but also for getting patients referred for appropriate treatment. He says he has been talking to patients about this issue for years, long before many other dentists had become aware of how prevalent the condition really was.

In trying to diagnose sleep apnea, Kurzer utilizes patient questionnaires and asks people’s spouses or partners whether they regularly snore at night. In fact, he says that spouses and partners are much more likely to sense when someone might have a sleep apnea issue than the sufferer himself, since they are the ones waking up each night to loud snoring.

Depending on the results of the questionnaire and family discussions, Kurzer will oftentimes recommend that his patients take part in sleep studies. These sleep studies are the best way to make a proper diagnosis, since there is only so much than can be done inside the dentist’s office. In nearby cities such as Richmond, Virginia, Kurzer says there are a number of good sleep disorder centers that offer treatments for this problem.

The two most common treatment options for people with sleep apnea are a prescription for a CPAP machine, which must be worn each night, or a dental mandibular repositioning appliance, which is custom fit to the patient’s mouth. For anyone who is curious as to whether his sleepiness during the day is being caused by sleep apnea at night, Kurzer recommends calling his office and coming in for an oral exam.

*Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your healthcare provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with an appropriate healthcare provider.

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