• Dr. Greg Grobmyer

Dental Appliances Can Help With Sleep Apnea and Snoring!

Ever have trouble going to sleep at night because your spouse sounds like a piece of construction equipment running beside you in the bed? Or do they ever startle you away with a loud snort that leaves your heart racing? Snoring can be annoying in the least, and can even be dangerous sometimes. A more serious condition is sleep apnea, where breathing stops completely until your body makes you desperately gasp for a breath.

Snoring usually is due to a narrow airway. Enlarged or sagging soft tissues in the throat hang down and vibrate in the constricted space as the air rushes by, creating the sound you hear. In apnea, the airway may close off completely. Both snoring and apnea keep you from achieving deep levels of sleep, which is detrimental to brain function, and can also spike blood pressure levels, which can induce heart attacks or strokes.

There are several treatments for snoring and for sleep apnea. Weight loss is recommended in most patients, but can often not be realistically achieved. Ceasing smoking, alcohol, and drug use is also advised. Sleeping on your side helps to avoid the narrowing of the airway, with some patients going as far as to sew tennis balls into the back of their sleep clothes to force them to stay off their backs. Surgery is another option, with lasers used to remove soft tissue overgrowth. This is only effective forty to fifty percent of the time and the tissue may grow back.

The standard treatment for sleep apnea is use of a device called a CPAP, for “continuous positive air pressure”. The patient wears a mask at night that covers their nose and mouth. Pressurized air is used to force open the airway and to keep oxygen levels acceptable. The trouble with this device is that it can be very loud and cumbersome and may in fact prevent the patient from being able to sleep, which is working against the very problem it is trying to solve! Many patients, or their spouses, cannot tolerate the CPAP.

Another treatment method that patients seem to tolerate more easily is a dental sleep appliance. These work by holding the jaw in a protruded position, which advances the tongue forward and out of the airway. It sounds like a simple concept, but there are many factors to consider in making such a device. It must be able to be worn every night comfortably, not irritate or damage the jaw joint, allow for adjustment to individualize it for each patient, and not damage the teeth. There are several types of these dental appliances; some are indicated only for snoring, while others are FDA approved as valid treatments for apnea. The appliances are custom fabricated, adjustable, durable, and much more comfortable than a CPAP mask.

To make a dental sleep appliance, a thorough exam at your dental office is needed to see what type of appliance will work best for you. Few dental offices make such appliances, so verify they offer this service before making an appointment. Dental molds must be made of your teeth and the appliance must be fabricated at a special laboratory. After delivery, you may need to return to the dental office to adjust the appliances for comfort and effectiveness.

If you feel you could benefit from a dental sleep appliance, we would be more than happy to consult with you about your options. Simple snore guards are relatively inexpensive and do not require a physician’s referral. If you are suspicious you may have sleep apnea, we would first recommend a visit to a sleep specialist. Talk with your ENT or get your physician to refer you directly for a sleep study, which is the only way to confirm the diagnosis of sleep apnea. If recommended by your physician and if you follow the correct steps for diagnosis and treatment, a dental sleep appliance may often be covered by your medical insurance.

Snoring can be irritating to everyone in a household and may even be a sign of a more dangerous condition. Consult your physician if you suspect sleep apnea and see about a sleep study. Feel free to contact your dentist for a consultation on sleep appliances for snoring or apnea. There are more effective things to try than sewing tennis balls into your pajamas!

Greg Grobmyer

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