Do Dental Devices for Sleep Apnea Work?

 In Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea, in all its forms, affects millions of people throughout the United States and many don’t know they have the illness. Along with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) — the most common form — Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) and Mixed Sleep Apnea are the three types of sleep apnea the majority of people suffer from.

Central Sleep Apnea is when the brain stops sending signals for the body to breathe and Mixed Sleep Apnea is the combination of OSA and CSA. In all three cases, sleeping becomes a series of short sprints instead of one long marathon.

Can dental appliances help sleep apnea?

In some cases, yes. Sleep apnea is caused when breathing becomes labored or just stops for several seconds. The soft tissues near the upper airway collapse, cutting off the flow of air for up to ten seconds. People with sleep apnea then wake up, often gasping for air, and fall asleep once again.

In severe cases, this can happen more than a hundred times a night. Side effects include poor sleep, daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure, and even cardiovascular issues such as heart attacks. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize they have sleep apnea because they forget about waking up or their partners just think it’s a snoring issue.

An oral device or CPAP machine in extreme cases can also help with CSA. Although the airways aren’t necessarily blocked in those cases, it’s more of an issue with signals within the body. Still, these devices will keep the airways open. This can be caused by Parkinson’s Disease, strokes, and certain heart failures.

Types of Devices

Perhaps the most recognizable device for treating sleep apnea is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. CPAP therapy includes a machine that continuously pumps air into the mouth through a tube and face mask. Oxygen is forced into the airway just enough to keep an opening for breathing.

In extreme cases, this is the only device that helps alleviate sleep apnea and prevents restless sleep. However, it may be overkill for those with mild to moderate sleep apnea. Many patients find the CPAP machine uncomfortable and hard to deal with, especially when traveling or bringing it along on vacation.

An alternative to CPAP treatment is a dental device that is custom fit to your mouth. These devices are made to either fit over the tongue (tongue retaining devices) or over the lower and upper teeth (mandibular advancement devices). Each serves a specific purpose in helping patients deal with sleep apnea.

Tongue Retaining Device (TRD): This device is made to prevent the tongue from relaxing too far back in the mouth, shutting off the airway. Although it looks similar to a mandibular advancement device, there is a small compartment that fits around the tongue and keeps it in place via suction.

Mandibular Advancement Devices (MAD): This is another sleep apnea treatment option that involves altering the position of the lower jawline. These devices fit over both rows of teeth and are more rigid. By bringing the lower jaw forward, the tongue is able to block the air passages. This is the most common oral appliance therapy for sleep apnea.

Other Ways to Treat Sleep Apnea

There are times when a device isn’t needed to help keep the airway open. Sleep apnea can be treated by losing weight, changing sleep positions, or quitting alcohol/tobacco are a few ways to help with sleep apnea. However, the best chance for immediate relief is via a mouth guard or CPAP machine.

How do I know if I have Sleep Apnea?

If you are concerned about the possibility of sleep apnea, the first step is to talk to your primary health care professional about a sleep evaluation. If there are signs of sleep apnea, you will be referred to a sleep specialist. It is recommended that you participate in an overnight sleep study to monitor your sleeping patterns.

A polysomnogram (PSG) will measure the depth of sleep, eye movement, blood pressure, and heart during sleep. Oxygen levels and even the movement of your chest are monitored to give the sleep professionals an overall evaluation of your sleeping progress.

There are daytime tests as well, including the MSLT (multiple sleep latency) and MWT (maintenance of wakefulness) tests. MSLT measures how sleepy you get during the day while using sleep devices. The MWT measures how alert you are during the day, which could affect how safely you’re able to perform your job.

Part of the sleep apnea study could be a physical examination of the ears, nose, and throat area. Unusual growths in the uvula, tonsils, or throat could be the culprit for sleep apnea. All of this information is used together to come up with a sleep apnea diagnosis.

Do you constantly wake up through the night or have a partner that snores as soon as their head hits the pillow? If you’re at high risk for sleep apnea, reach out to New Image Dentistry for a free evaluation.

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