Your nightly snoring has become a major sleep disturbance for you and other family members. But it may be more than an irritation — it could also be a sign of sleep apnea, a condition that increases your risk for life-threatening illnesses like high blood pressure or heart disease.
Sleep apnea most often occurs when the tongue or other soft tissues block the airway during sleep. The resulting lack of oxygen triggers the brain to wake the body to readjust the airway. This waking may only last a few seconds, but it can occur several times a night. Besides its long-term health effects, this constant waking through the night can result in irritability, drowsiness and brain fog during the day.
One of the best ways to treat sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. This requires an electric pump that supplies constant pressurized air to a face mask worn during sleep to keep the airway open. But although effective, many patients find a CPAP machine clumsy and uncomfortable to wear. That's why you may want to consider an option from your family dentist called oral appliance therapy (OAT).
An OAT device is a custom-made appliance that fits in the mouth like a sports mouthguard or orthodontic retainer. The majority of OAT appliances use tiny metal hinges to move the lower jaw and tongue forward to make the airway larger, thus improving air flow. Another version works by holding the tongue away from the back of the throat, either by holding the tongue forward like a tongue depressor or with a small compartment fitted around the tongue that holds it back with suction.
Before considering an OAT appliance, your dentist may refer you to a sleep specialist to confirm you have sleep apnea through laboratory or home testing. If you do and you meet other criteria, you could benefit from an OAT appliance. There may be other factors to consider, though, so be sure to discuss your options with your dentist or physician to find the right solution for a better night's sleep.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea treatments, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea.”