Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects over 18 million Americans. It occurs when an individual experiences an obstruction in their airway as they sleep, causing them to periodically stop breathing during sleep. These obstructions are caused by certain factors, such as being overweight or obese, being male, or having a large neck. Sleep apnea can cause a number of serious health problems if left untreated. So, it is important to discuss your treatment options with your dentist.
Oral Appliance Therapy
An oral appliance can be used as an alternative treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea. It treats snoring and obstructive sleep apnea by moving the lower jaw, tongue, and soft palate forward to open the airway during sleep. This can prevent the soft tissue in the throat from blocking the airway. The oral appliance is custom-made to fit the mouth like a night guard or orthodontic retainer. It must be worn every night to be effective. Some patients find it comfortable to wear, while others may find it difficult to adjust to wearing it.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP for short, is the gold standard treatment for sleep apnea. For this treatment, patients wear a mask on their face, which is connected to a machine that pumps oxygen through the airway to keep it open during sleep. The machine is small enough to fit on a nightstand and can run on batteries or a wall connection. This treatment is usually used in tandem with oral appliances, but some people only need to use an oral appliance or only need CPAP a few nights a week. With ongoing use, sleep apnea symptoms should go away. While it may be uncomfortable at first, most patients become used to wearing the CPAP device after a couple of weeks. CPAP machines are covered by insurance in most cases. If a patient needs long-term use of CPAP, the doctor may also prescribe a special pillow to help patients sleep comfortably with the mask.
Some dentists may also recommend lifestyle changes for patients with obstructive sleep apnea. Patients may benefit from weight loss if they carry extra pounds in their neck area. Lifestyle changes can also include smoking cessation; some patients find that quitting smoking reduces both the frequency of nighttime awakenings and the severity of their symptoms.
If your sleep apnea is severe and you live alone, surgery may be your only option. The most common surgical treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is a UPPP procedure. This procedure involves removing the excess tissue from the back of your throat. This outpatient procedure can help improve your ability to breathe at night and reduce snoring. You may need multiple surgeries to completely alleviate the severity of your condition.
If you’d like to learn more, then contact our dental office at (503) 581-2446 today. We’d be happy to help answer any questions that you may have.