Dentists Treat Sleep Apnea

You might be suffering from sleep apnea and not even know it. Oftentimes, those with sleep apnea do not find out about their condition until related health problems manifest. If your doctor eventually diagnoses you with sleep apnea, you might be surprised to learn your dentist has a number of effective treatment options. Let's take a quick look at the different ways dentists treat sleep apnea.

The Basics of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is best described as a sleep disorder that causes an individual to suffer intermittent breathing pauses during sleep. Such pauses in breathing typically last 10 seconds. Some sleep apnea breathing stops are followed by gasps, snorts or even choking sounds. These sounds are the result of the individual's attempt to resume breathing. The muscles in the body relax during sleep in an attempt to perform self-repair that keeps the body healthy and energized. However, there is the potential for the muscles in the throat and mouth to relax when sleeping. If such fatty tissues relax so much that they fall back to the upper airway and prevent the flow of oxygen from moving in, the patient suffers from sleep apnea.

Oral Devices to Treat Sleep Apnea

Continuous Positive Air Pressure therapy, or CPAP for short, is the most commonly prescribed form of therapy to treat sleep apnea symptoms. However, CPAP is not the sole means of treating this sleep disorder. Meet with your doctor and dentist and you will be provided with CPAP and/or be fit for oral appliances. Each sleep apnea solution has a unique design, custom-made for the specific patient's idiosyncratic mouth measurements.

The primary purpose of dental devices is to keep the patient's airway clear and open throughout sleep. If the airway remains open while resting, it cannot collapse and prevent the flow of air when breathing. However, the dental device(s) your dentist provides does not mean CPAP therapy will be unnecessary. Dentists far and wide agree CPAP therapy is an effective means of treating obstructive sleep apnea when patients are willing to follow the orders provided by the dentist and doctor.

How Apnea Dental Devices Mitigate the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

As noted above, sleep apnea dental devices keep the patient's airway open for unobstructed sleep. This is accomplished by moving the lower jaw slightly forward. The tongue is held in place, so it does not fall back amidst sleep. If the tongue is held firmly in place, there is a reduced chance of airway obstruction. Some dental sleep apnea devices accomplish both of these feats in unison.

The Dentist's Approach to Treating Sleep Apnea

A sleep study must be conducted before treatment options are considered. The purpose of the sleep study is to gauge the patient's symptoms. The severity of these symptoms determines which form of therapy will prove ideal for the patient in question. The forementioned CPAP devices are the most common sleep apnea therapeutic tool. The CPAP device sends a consistent stream of air through a mask into the patient's respiratory system. CPAP therapy has proven effective for those with severe and moderate sleep apnea. Dental devices are commonly worn in unison with sleep apnea equipment.

Though there are some over-the-counter sleep apnea products available at local stores, these supposed solutions pale in comparison provided by your dentist. Such over-the-counter devices are certainly tempting to use as they are comparably cheap, yet they have the potential to worsen sleep apnea. Those who order these oral devices without the oversight of a dentist run the risk that sleep apnea events will cause significant complications down the line even though snoring dissipates.

If you were to poll sleep apnea patients who tried CPAP machines, over-the-counter products, and dental devices, you would find the majority favor dental devices. Those who use CPAP complain their nose feels itchy and dry as a result of the air pressure drying the sinuses. Those who use oral devices provided by the dentist have no such problem. Furthermore, dental devices that treat sleep apnea will not entangle during sleep. Nor is there any risk of the dental device being knocked off while sleeping. The icing on the cake is the fact that dental devices designed to treat sleep apnea are that much easier to carry when traveling than an obtrusive CPAP machine.

Mandibular Advancement Devices

Also known as MADs, mandibular advancement devices look similar to the mouthguards donned by athletes. MADs fit directly into the mouth, snapping directly over the lower and upper dental arches. These dental devices feature metal hinges to connect each piece. One hinge is aligned above the upper row of teeth while the other fits on the lower teeth. MADs push the tongue and lower jaw forward so the throat muscles do not collapse back into the airways. The end result is normal breathing when sleeping. The majority of MADs can be adjusted with ease, providing oral health professionals with the opportunity to properly position the jaw for optimal results.

Tongue Retaining Mouthpieces

Tongue retaining mouthpieces have design features similar to those of MADs. The primary difference between these two dental treatments for sleep apnea is the tongue retaining mouthpiece fits on the tongue with a suction force that ensures it is held forward rather than collapsing down into the airway. Such devices are typically used by patients whose jaws cannot be re-positioned slightly forward.

The Dentist's Sleep Apnea Treatments Can Be Used with CPAP Therapy

Those in desperate need of CPAP therapy will find the sleep apnea dental devices detailed above work well with this therapy. These treatment modalities work especially well in tandem when the patient requires CPAP therapy at an especially high pressure. Oftentimes, such patients are provided with oral appliances worn in combination with CPAP therapy. An oral appliance really can prevent the jaw from moving back during sleep and closing off the airway. This way, the CPAP machine pressure does not have to be elevated to ensure the airway remains open. The lower pressure that results can make a meaningful difference in CPAP therapy comfort.

Do you suspect you might be suffering from sleep apnea? If so, it’s time to take action. Coeur d’Alene Dental Center is here to help. Contact us today to schedule an appointment to learn more about sleep apnea treatment, coordinate a dental exam and/or cleaning. You can reach us by dialing (208) 667-7461.