Sleep Apnea and Snoring

For those who have never consulted a dentist about treatments for sleep apnea and snoring, it may be time to make an appointment. Dental sleep medicine is a growing segment of dentistry that focuses on managing snoring and sleep apnea with oral appliance therapy (OAT) – an effective alternative to the standard continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine and mask. According to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), up to 50 percent of sleep apnea patients do not comply with or tolerate CPAP.

CPAP has maximum benefit for patients only when they are willing and able to use it continuously, and unfortunately some Stamford area residents are unable to do so. Dental sleep medicine focuses on managing sleep-disordered breathing like snoring and obstructive sleep apnea using oral appliance therapy – a very effective treatment option.

Oral appliance therapy (OAT) uses a mouth guard-like device worn only during sleep to maintain an open, unobstructed airway. OAT devices prevent the airway from collapsing by supporting the jaw in a forward position. For many, oral appliance devices are more comfortable to wear than a CPAP mask. The devices are also quiet, portable and easy to manage and clean. Research suggests that oral appliance therapy offers a higher patient compliance rate than CPAP. There are more than 80 different styles of oral appliance devices that have received FDA approval.

Dentists trained in dental sleep medicine work in conjunction with a sleep physician and recommend a specific oral appliance device based on a patient’s personal needs. The important thing for patients to remember is that effective oral devices are always custom fit by a dentist and may need adjustments over time to ensure maximum effectiveness.

AADSM recommends oral appliance therapy for people with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. Once a patient is diagnosed with primary snoring or obstructive sleep apnea by a board-certified sleep physician, a dentist trained in dental sleep medicine can provide treatment with OAT.

According to the AADSM, 12-18 million adults in the U.S. have obstructive sleep apnea, which causes them to stop breathing up to hundreds of times a night for anywhere from a few seconds to more than a minute. If left untreated, sleep apnea is a potentially life threatening condition that can increase the risk for serious health problems from congestive heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease to diabetes, obesity, depression and impotence.

Oral appliance therapy also is recommended for severe sleep apnea patients if they are unable to tolerate CPAP. The side effects of oral appliance therapy are minor and usually transient. They may include excess salivation, muscle and tooth discomfort and, occasionally, joint discomfort, and most improve within a few weeks. Major adverse effects of OAT are uncommon but can include slight tooth movement, permanent changes in a patient’s bite, ongoing muscle soreness or loosening of dental restorations.

Best of all, oral appliance therapy is covered by medical insurance and medicare.

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