If you've been diagnosed with sleep apnea you've probably been fully informed about all of the health problems untreated sleep apnea leads to. Heart disease, car crashes, high blood pressure, and even sky-high rates of divorce have all been linked to untreated sleep apnea. The gold-standard treatment for sleep apnea is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, or any of its variants.
CPAP is very effective for treating sleep apnea. Unfortunately, it is a very intrusive device. The mask, the tubes, the noise- many people cannot sleep at all while wearing them, which kind of defeats the purpose. Luckily, there are alternatives.
Oral Sleep Appliance
The most commonly-used alternative to CPAP is a special kind of mouth guard. These look a lot like the rubbery devices that athletes use to protect their teeth. An oral appliance used to treat CPAP has to fitted by a specially trained dentist. They work by holding the jaw slightly forward of its normal position during sleep. That slight adjustment is enough to keep the airway open during sleep for most people.
Oral appliances are well-tolerated. There may be some minor irritation to the gums during the first few days of use. It is important to be sure the mouth guard has actually stopped the sleep apnea, though. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that patients fitted with an oral appliance undergo a sleep study to be sure. Sometimes mouth guards stop the snoring but don't actually stop the repeated episodes of breathing cessation.
Surgery sounds like a tempting option to treat sleep apnea. Go in and get it fixed all at once is a very American approach to health problems. Surgery for sleep apnea usually consists of trimming the palate or some of the other soft tissues in the mouth. The most commonly used procedure is called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. However, studies indicate it only works about 50% of the time and has a high rate of post-operative morbidity. Some doctors are suggesting it be abandoned as a viable approach to treating sleep apnea.
This is a fairly new approach to treating sleep apnea. It is a device that is implanted in the throat and chest. It acts to monitor breathing during sleep, and when necessary, it stimulates the breathing muscles to prevent breathing cessation. Inspire therapy is indicated for patients who can't use CPAP. Results of a large study of Inspire were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and it appears to be fairly effective in treating sleep apnea.
However, because it requires surgery, it's probably a good idea to try non-invasive solutions such as weight loss and an oral appliance first. If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and can't use CPAP, go talk to your dentist about non-invasive options for treating sleep apnea.
Peter J. Samuels, DDS is a local Gettysburg Dentist and a clinical instructor at the University of Maryland Dental School