Sleep problems — such as obstructive sleep apnea — are serious conditions that should be treated right away.
The most telltale signs of obstructive sleep apnea are snoring, gasping or choking sounds during sleep, as well as excessive daytime sleepiness. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when muscles relax during sleep, allowing soft tissue to collapse and block the airway. When this happens, repeated breathing pauses occur up to hundreds of times a night for anywhere from a few seconds to more than a minute.
Seeking treatment for sleep apnea is extremely important. If left untreated, this condition can lead to other health complications, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. The good news is that several treatments are available for sleep apnea patients. The most commonly prescribed treatment option is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which involves wearing a face mask connected to a constantly running machine at night. However, up to half of sleep apnea patients don’t comply with or can’t tolerate CPAP.
For patients seeking an effective alternative, dentists trained in dental sleep medicine can provide treatment with oral appliance therapy. This treatment uses a mouth guard-like device worn at night that helps to keep the airway open by supporting the jaw in a forward position. Sleep apnea patients who use oral appliance therapy find that the device is comfortable, easy to wear and care for and convenient for travel.
If you think you or a loved one may have sleep apnea, the first step is to schedule an appointment with a board-certified sleep physician for a sleep test. Once diagnosed, your doctor will work with you to determine your best treatment option. If you decide that oral appliance therapy is right for you, your doctor can refer you to a dentist who is experienced in dental sleep medicine, or you can visit www.LocalSleepDentist.com to find a dentist near you who offers oral appliance therapy.
Dr. Harold A. Smith, President, American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, [email protected]