Obstructive Sleep Apnea

It is not uncommon for my dental patients to complain of obstructive sleep apnea.  This is a condition in which a person has episodes of blocked breathing while they are asleep.  People with obstructive sleep apnea often snore heavily upon falling asleep. The snoring continues until it is interrupted by a silent period in which breathing ceases.  The person may then snort and gasp, and begin snoring again.   The pattern is repeated throughout the night.

Symptoms may be relieved with lifestyle changes: avoidance of alcohol or sedatives, avoidance of sleeping on the back, loss of weight.

There are also several treatment options with the goal of keeping the airway open so that breathing doesn’t stop.  The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Device (CPAP) delivers air pressure through a mask placed over the patient’s nose while he sleeps.   But many people cannot tolerate CPAP therapy: it is uncomfortable and expensive.   An alternative is an oral device or mouthpiece inserted into the mouth to keep the jaw forward and the airway open.  Another option for severe cases of sleep apnea is surgery to remove excess tissue that may be blocking the airway.

Some recent studies have shown that exercises to strengthen the throat may reduce the severity of sleep apnea.  The exercises build up the muscles around the airway so they are less likely to collapse during sleep.   A study in The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine showed that throat exercises including swallowing and chewing and placement of the tongue resulted in less snoring and better sleep for the participants.

Throat exercises for obstructive sleep apnea: simple, inexpensive, less invasive.  Sounds good to me!

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