Dental Treatments For Sleep Apnea

Jennifer Galvan

by Jennifer Galvan | July 6, 2011 @ 11:00AM
Medically Reviewed by Mark Levy

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Have you ever gone to bed and slept a decent amount of time (eight hours), only to wake up tired? If so, you may be suffering from sleep apnea. This is a common disorder that affects millions, including approximately 70 percent of those who snore. Unfortunately, this condition is difficult to diagnose during a routine medical exam. According to Wikipedia, sleep apnea is “characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or instances of abnormally low breathing, during sleep. Each pause in breathing, called an apnea, can last from a few seconds to minutes, and may occur five to 75 times or more an hour.”  Having this happen night after night, week after week, is now believed to be the major cause of people dying of heart attacks or strokes while asleep.  Does it make sense otherwise to have someone die of a heart attack while sleeping?  Isn’t sleeping when you are considered to be most relaxed?

Obviously, sleep apnea is a very serious condition.  In the past, it was only diagnosed with an overnight stay in a sleep center.  This test is called a polysomnogram, or “sleep study.”    Fortunately, testing for sleep apnea has become very easy.  You can do the test at home with equipment that you borrow from a sleep center or your qualified dentist.

Once you have been properly diagnosed by a qualified doctor, you can begin researching your treatment options. The most common, but least liked, is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This device is used at night to blow air into the nose and push the tongue out of the way in order to get air into the lungs. According to Dr. Mark Levy, a dentist in Columbus, Ohio whose practice is focused on Dental Sleep Medicine, approximately 75 percent of those using the CPAP stop using them within the first year. There are many reasons for this. Some are the obtrusive equipment required, the discomfort, noise, travel restrictions, etc.

Those who have tried the CPAP and other treatments with unsuccessful results are sometimes advised to learn about surgical corrections. There are several surgical techniques that may alleviate symptoms, but there are also those that may worsen your sleep apnea. Believe it or not, one of these surgeries is actually a tracheotomy, which is considered to be 100 percent successful, but with most unpleasant consequences.  A tracheotomy can leave the patient with a hole that acts as an airway directly into your throat, but can be aesthetically unpleasant as it is highly visible. This is a last resource option for patients with the most severe sleep apnea.

A lesser-known option that is becoming more and more popular is one that is highly recommended by The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. It is an oral appliance that appears to be more like a night guard or “bite guard,” than anything else.  It is much more comfortable and easy to use than a CPAP. As compared to the invasiveness and permanence of surgery, night guard treatment has quickly become the treatment of choice for patients.  “It is a sophisticated mouth guard that controls how the mouth is open and gets air in to the lungs,” states Dr. Levy. “Overall, the oral appliance is cost effective, has excellent patient acceptance and compliance, is reversible, and is non-invasive (unlike a surgical procedure).  Patients can take their mouth guard with them no matter where they are, without having to carry any extra baggage or display it at airport security.”

If you have tried other options that have not provided satisfactory results, it may be highly beneficial for you to visit with a qualified dentist who has experience with sleep apnea therapy. Be absolutely sure to do so before resorting to a surgical, permanent treatment.

A dental provider with knowledge of sleep apnea and the oral appliance can provide a more comfortable and successful option.

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