Sleep apnea is a frightening disease. Apnea comes from Greek and means without breath. Those with this disorder literally stop breathing in their sleep. Treatment is necessary because this is something that could lead to death. Numerous treatments exist but what many people do not know is that dental treatment for this condition has a very high success rate.
There are 3 types of apnea: obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive apnea occurs when the airway is physically blocked with soft tissue from the back of the throat. Central apnea occurs when the brain does not signal the muscles in the airway to breathe. Mixed apnea is a combination of both.
Weight loss, exercise and good sleep hygiene are ways that patients can treat sleep apnea on their own at home. It is important to talk to your doctor or dentist about other dental and medical treatments as well.
There are three professional treatments for apnea; CPAP, Oral Appliance Therapy, and surgery.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is known as CPAP. Pressurized air is generated in a machine next to the bed. This air is forced through the windpipe to hold it open. A mask is fitted for the face that holds the air hose in the nose. CPAP acts like the airway in a balloon that is being blown up. It is necessary to see a doctor or dentist to fit the mask.
Oral Appliance Therapy involves placing devices into the mouth to prevent obstructive apnea. The appliances are like retainers, invisalign for teeth straightening or the mouth guards used in sports. Therapy involves selecting, designing, fitting and using a custom designed oral device that is worn while sleeping. The appliance is designed to keep the airway open and unobstructed.
There are many different oral appliances available. The FDA has approved over 40 different devices for use in treatment of sleep disorders including apnea. Oral appliances can be used alone or in concert with other treatments. Other treatments can include overall general health, weight loss, surgery or CPAP.
Oral appliances work in many different ways to improve sleep disorders. First, they act to reposition different parts of the mouth. This keeps the tissue in the soft palate and the uvula from blocking the air way. Secondly, the device stabilizes the lower jaw and tongue. Thirdly, the appliance increases the muscle tone of the tongue.
It is important to see a dentist that has been trained in Oral Appliance Therapy. They will be familiar with the different types of devices. A trained dentist can help decide which treatment and device type is right. The dentist will work as a team with the physician for diagnosis, treatment and on-going care.
Determining a course of treatment can only be made with joint consultation from a physician and a dentist. Oral Appliance Therapy can take weeks or months to implement. The dentist will continue to monitor the treatment and evaluate the response of the mouth.
In addition to Oral Appliance Therapy, a dentist trained in oral and maxillofacial surgery can evaluate a surgical option as well. These dentists can treat obstructive apnea with minimally invasive procedures as well as complex surgeries, including jaw advancement.
Dentists are not permitted to diagnose sleep apnea. They are an integral part of the treatment however. It is important to find a knowledgeable and experienced dental practitioner. The dentist will be a major part in the treatment of this disorder.