During the last 20 years, the public has grown much more familiar with the symptoms as well as the potential consequences of untreated sleep apnea. According to WebMD, obstructive sleep apnea (the most common form) can cause or exacerbate hypertension, heart disease, type II diabetes, weight gain, asthma, and acid reflux. This condition which affects millions of Americans is almost always caused by blockage of the airway when the tongue and surrounding soft tissues of the upper throat retract and impede the airway. Fortunately, the treatment options have improved and grown in variety such that more people should have access to relief from this potentially serious ailment.
The most proven, successful and common treatment for sleep apnea is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). In a nutshell, a mask which is worn while sleeping provides strong air pressure maintaining the airway and the flow of oxygen to the lungs. Advances in CPAP treatment have created more comfortable and quiet machines, while also adding warm moist air to prevent the drying out of the oropharyngeal tissues which had been a major side effect of the treatment. Despite these advances there remain many individuals who simply cannot sleep with the CPAP system. Sadly, as a consequence many abandon the sleep apnea treatment and suffer the detrimental health effects. For these individuals, oral appliances designed to maintain the airway are an excellent treatment modality.
Today, dentists provide more treatment for sleep apnea than ever before. Appropriately trained dentists can fabricate an oral appliance to be worn while sleeping which advances the lower jaw (mandible) forward, effectively preventing closure of the airway. Oral appliances have a very high success rate and tend to be well tolerated by most patients. They are perfect for busy professionals and/or those who frequently travel, as they are not difficult to pack and transport like CPAP machines. As a bonus, oral appliances will usually eliminate snoring. So not only could it save or extend your life, but it could also save your marriage!
If you suspect you have sleep apnea, your first visit needs to be to your primary care physician. If your doctor suspects you have obstructive sleep apnea, you will be referred for a sleep study in order to confirm the diagnosis. Almost all medical insurance carriers will require a sleep apnea diagnosis via sleep study before they will consider approving a CPAP machine, oral appliance or any sleep apnea treatment for that matter. Fortunately, with the proper documentation, most medical insurance companies will cover both CPAP and/or oral appliance therapy.
If you are interested in an oral appliance to treat your sleep apnea, do some research to find a dentist who devotes a reasonable portion of their practice to sleep apnea. Many dentists will advertise sleep apnea treatment on their websites, but to avoid finding someone whose only training is a weekend beach CE in Cancun, find a dentist who is a member of a professional organization such as the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine. In the Kansas City area, there are several dentists who practice exclusively sleep apnea dentistry.
Regardless of which treatment option is best, it is imperative to get treatment for sleep apnea. There have been studies which show that obstructive sleep apnea increases your risk to be involved in a car accident, due to inadequate and poor quality sleep. Patients who have successfully been treated for sleep apnea report feeling significantly better with renewed energy and a much improved quality of life.