Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person’s natural breathing is interrupted repeatedly throughout the sleep session. The most common type of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), caused when the muscles in the back of the throat become too relaxed and block air from getting through. These pauses can last up to 60 seconds before the brain signals the body to wake. At that point the individual will usually gasp for breath, and then quickly fall back asleep without ever realizing the problem. As the cycle repeats itself continually through the night, the individual never fully enters deep sleep and rarely feels rested despite having “a full night’s sleep”.
If left untreated, OSA can be responsible for excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, and difficulty concentrating. It is also quite common for people with sleep apnea to have high blood pressure. Once an individual is diagnosed with OSA they have several options available to help them management the condition including:
Life-style changes – Some patients are able to control their OSA by cutting out alcohol and/or sleeping pills. Others have found that losing weight has a positive effect on their OSA, as excess fatty tissues in the throat are generally reduced during weight loss.
CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) Machine – This is the most common recommendation for managing obstructive sleep apnea. It consists of a base unit, a long hose, and some form of face mask that must be worn during sleep. As its name suggests, the CPAP machine delivers a constant pressure to the individual’s airway. A CPAP is most effective when used to treat mild to moderate OSA.
Surgery – In the case of severe OSA a doctor may recommend surgery. This will typically involve cutting and scraping away any excess tissue in the patient’s throat, including re-shaping an over-sized uvula. In most instances surgery should generally be considered a last resort, if an individual has been unable to control their OSA by other means.
Another Option – The Sleep Apnea Mouthpiece
But what happens if the CPAP isn’t right for you? There is another effective treatment that is growing in popularity – Oral Appliance Therapy. This involves the use of a specially designed dental device that is worn during sleep. This mouthpiece gently pushes the lower jaw forward, which in turn prohibits the wearer’s airway from becoming blocked, while allowing them to breathe easily.
Many people who have had difficulty with CPAP therapy discover more consistent relief with an oral appliance. They find that wearing a mouthpiece is preferable to sleeping with a face mask and adjusting to the long hose that connects it to the CPAP unit. A mouthpiece is less restrictive while continuing to maintain an open airway during sleep.
Dentists refer to this type of oral appliance as a Mandibular Repositioning Device (MRD). Although it is possible to find these online, you should be wary of going this route. Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition and requires the proper medical treatment that only certified health care professionals are qualified to give. To be highly effective a MRD must be customized to fit the patient’s individual needs. This is done by first creating a mold of the patient’s mouth from a bite impression kit. Then a uniquely customized mouthpiece is carefully crafted using that mold. The patient will place this in their mouth prior to going to sleep, much like an orthodontic appliance.
There are many different varieties of MRDs available, with a wide range of pricing options. Your dentist will go through some recommendations with you, and outline your options. Although a customized mouthpiece can potentially be rather costly, they are covered under many insurance plans and the longterm health benefits are substantial.
Click here for more information, including photos of many different varieties of sleep apnea mouthpieces.
Update – Dr. Thomas Armstrong recently posted an excellent article in the Bakersfield Life Profiles section titled How to Manage Snoring and Sleep Apnea Without CPAP, Drugs, or Surgery. I highly recommend reading this if you are considering asleep apnea mouthpiece.