What is sleep apnea?
The muscles in your body relax when you sleep so they can start repairing themselves to keep you healthy and active on a daily basis. However, muscles in your mouth and throat also loosen up during sleep, and for some people these muscles and soft fatty tissues relax to the point where they fall back into the upper airway and block the oxygen flow. Your brain responds by partially waking when you stop breathing during the night to send signals to the respiratory system to work harder to overcome the obstruction.
Is sleep apnea common?
Sleep apnea is serious and it affects millions of Americans. People who suffer from sleep apnea have a reduced airflow while sleeping, the inability to catch their breath, and 10-second or longer pauses in a normal breathing pattern while sleeping. Sleep apnea may or may not be accompanied by loud snoring. One must have a medical evaluation and sleep study prior to having a sleep apnea appliance made. Oral sleep apnea appliances can be beneficial for patients who are non-compliant CPAP/Bi-PAP users.
Who is at greatest risk for developing sleep apnea?
Common characteristics of those at most risk for sleep apnea include people who:
- Are overweight
- Are over 40
- Have a large neck, tongue, or tonsils
- Have a retruded jawbone
When not treated, sleep apnea can lead to many other serious health disorders, including:
High blood pressure
Drowsiness while driving or working
Frequent nighttime urination
and even death
Sleep Apnea Dental & Oral Treatments
A mandibular repositioning device and a Tongue Retaining device are other oral treatments. By bringing your lower jaw forward during sleep, these devices open your airway. They’re acrylic and fit in your mouth, similar to an athletic mouthguard. Others might fit around your chin and head to adjust the lower jaw position as well.
Being fitted by a dentist specializing in sleep apnea is very important. Call us and specify any dental problems that may arise on a regular basis and check with your sleep specialist to see if you are an OSA candidate.
Sleep apnea can even leads to excessive daytime sleepiness since every time your brain has to “wake up” to tell your body to keep breathing, it’s not going to spend sufficient time doing all the many other functions that quality sleep requires. All day tiredness can cause poor performance at work. Memory and other cognitive disorders, depression, and even accidents are more likely to happen when you are tired.
The amount of apnea events (breathing breaks) can determine how severe one’s sleep apnea is.
- Mild OSA
- The patient experiences 5 – 14 episodes of breathing interruptions in an hour.
- Moderate OSA
- The patient experiences 15 – 30 episodes of breathing interruptions in an hour.
- Severe OSA
- The patient experiences 30 or more breathing interruptions in an hour.
Dental appliances for sleep apnea.
Before any treatments can be decided, a sleep study should be performed first to determine the severity of one’s symptoms as it may directly affect the suggested treatment.
A dental device is often the recommended therapy for mild to moderate sleep apnea. It may also be advisable to wear dental devices in conjunction with a CPAP device to help lower the need for high pressure.
How do dental appliances work?
There are two major categories of dental devices.
- Mandibular advancement devices (MADs)
- Tongue Retaining Mouthpieces
Sleep apnea MADs look very similar to sports mouthguards or orthodontic retainers. By snapping over the upper and lower dental arches, they fit into the mouth and have metal hinges that connect the two pieces. One fits over the upper teeth, the other fits over the lower teeth.
MADs work by slightly pushing the lower jaw and tongue forward, which helps prevent muscles and problems with the throat (such as the pharynx) from collapsing back into the airways to allow normal breathing during sleep. For maximum efficacy, most MADs are adjustable, allowing dentists to fine-tune the jaw position.
Mouthpieces that retain tongue are similar to the MAD in construction, but have a small compartment that fits around the tongue using suction to hold it forward, preventing it from collapsing back into the airway. These devices are mostly used in patients who are unable to reposition their jaw forward adequately.
CPAP – For moderate to severe cases of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea has a variety of treatments. A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine (CPAP), mouth devices, and specially designed pillows are some of the most common devices to help. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices are the most common form of therapy that blow a constant stream of pressurized air into the respiratory system through a mask. Most sleep professionals will recommend CPAP therapy as a first line treatment option for moderate to severe sleep apnea patients.
Another option for early treatment and even OSA prevention is dentofacial orthopedics. These orthopedics can open 10 mm or more of the airway by developing an optimum situation facial profile, which is a process to increase airway space. Treatment can begin as young as 2 years of age and can help your child achieve maximum sleep capability by lowering breathing, swallowing and sleeping problems.
Drs. Louis and Barry Sandor look forward to meeting you and helping you achieve improved health with our quality services! If you suffer from sleep apnea or snoring problems, please contact us today.