Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a common sleep disorder characterized by shallow breathing or temporary pauses in breathing while sleeping. OSA occurs when the muscles of the throat relax and narrow the airway, and it is typically accompanied by loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, routinely waking up with dry mouth or headaches, and intermittent periods throughout the night when you stop breathing or wake up gasping for air.
Although OSA can only be diagnosed by a certified sleep specialist, dentists like Dr. Kristen Campbell and Dr. Donna Sparks of Norman Smile Center are often the first healthcare providers to notice the risks and symptoms of sleep apnea. With extensive training in the structure of the mouth, jaw, and teeth, Dr. Campbell and Dr. Sparks can identify common irregularities that may be indicators of obstructive sleep apnea, such as:
Even if you do not currently exhibit signs of sleep apnea, these irregularities can also put you at higher risk of developing it. However, early identification of them during routine checkups and exams can help both you and your doctor be aware of your risk and possibly begin proactive, preventative measures.
There are muscles in the back of your throat that support your tonsils, tongue, soft palate, uvula, and the sidewalls of the throat. For people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, the relaxation of these muscles during sleep narrows or closes off the airway and obstructs proper breathing. This, in turn, prevents your body from receiving enough oxygen. When your brain detects the oxygen insufficiency, it sends a signal triggering you to wake up so your muscles can engage and re-establish the airway. This brief arousal is typically accompanied by choking, snorting, or gasping for air before you fall back asleep, creating a cycle that repeats anywhere between five and 30 times per hour, all night long.
OSA disrupts the necessary biological function of sleep and prevents your body from reaching the deep, restorative phases of sleep it needs to function properly. By affecting the quality and quantity of your sleep, your body and brain cannot complete critical processes like repairing muscles and organs, removing toxins from the brain, and reinforcing the immune system. When these processes are interrupted or prevented from occurring at all—as happens with prolonged and untreated OSA—you can start to develop serious long-term health problems like asthma, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Dentists like Dr. Campbell and Dr. Sparks play an important role in the identification, diagnosis, and treatment of OSA. In addition to screening questions and outside referrals to other specialists, they can also administer at-home sleep tests that will be read by a certified sleep physician and assist in the development of treatment recommendations after a diagnosis is made.
If the diagnosis is severe sleep apnea, then a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is the preferred treatment. Most patients who are diagnosed with mild to moderate sleep apnea, however, can often be treated with an oral appliance.
Oral appliances are removable custom-fitted devices that are worn at night to prevent the throat muscles and tongue from collapsing or relaxing and blocking your airway. By repositioning the tongue and/or lower jaw to help maintain an open airway while sleeping, oral appliance therapy from Norman Smile Center can help you breathe better at night, restore the quality of your sleep, and help improve your overall health.
Because oral appliances are convenient, comfortable to wear, and easy to clean, they are an effective treatment method for people suffering from mild to moderate sleep apnea who either cannot or do not want to use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.
However, oral appliances are not for everyone, and they may not be as effective as CPAP for more severe cases of sleep apnea, so it’s important to discuss your treatment options with Dr. Campbell or Dr. Sparks to determine the best course of action. If you don’t respond well to oral appliance therapy, or need more aggressive treatment Dr. Campbell and Dr. Sparks can also refer you to other specialists as required.
Good quality sleep is essential for your health and well-being. If you suffer from poor sleep as a result of obstructive sleep apnea or struggle with CPAP compliance, oral appliance therapy can help you sleep and feel better. Oral appliance therapy is a safe, effective, and convenient treatment option for sleep apnea that can improve your sleep quality, reduce snoring, and decrease the risk of serious health complications associated with sleep apnea.
Oral appliance therapy is often covered by most dental insurance plans, but if you don’t have insurance or if for some reason your plan does not cover it, Norman Smile Center can help with affordable payment and financing options so you can get the care you need for the healthier life you deserve.
Obstructive sleep apnea can only be diagnosed by a certified sleep specialist, usually through a sleep study or other extensive evaluation. However, OSA presents several common signs and symptoms that could indicate you or a loved one has the condition but has not yet been diagnosed, such as:
Oral appliance therapy is an effective treatment option for many people with mild to moderate sleep apnea who can’t or don’t want to use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. Oral appliances are also a good choice for people who have tried CPAP but have difficulty using it consistently.
In addition to being portable and convenient, oral appliances can be more comfortable and easier to both wear and clean than CPAP machines. They are custom-made from soft, flexible materials to slip easily in and out of your mouth without putting any additional pressure or strain on your face, jaw, or teeth.
However, it is important to note that oral appliances may not be suitable for everyone or as effective as CPAP therapy for more severe cases of sleep apnea, and they should always be used under the guidance of a qualified dental professional. If you are prescribed an oral appliance for sleep apnea, Dr. Campbell and Dr. Sparks will continue to monitor your health and symptoms to ensure the treatment is working as it should. If you are not responding well to oral appliance therapy, they can also provide guidance for other alternatives and refer you to additional specialists for more intensive treatment options.
The two most commonly used oral appliances for treating OSA are tongue-retaining devices or mouthpieces and mandibular advancement devices.
Tongue-retaining mouthpieces. These appliances fit around the tongue, holding it in place with light suction and keeping it from falling back into the airway.
Mandibular advancement devices. Mandibular advancement devices (MADs) work by slightly repositioning the lower jaw during sleep to open the airway and prevent the soft tissues in the throat from collapsing. This allows for more consistent and uninterrupted breathing. MADs may also be referred to as mandibular advancement splints or mandibular repositioning appliances.
One type of MAD is a traditional single-piece device that fits over the upper and lower teeth—much like athletic mouth guards—and holds the jaw in a forward position. This type of MAD is made of hard acrylic and can be adjusted to ensure a comfortable fit.
Another type of MAD is a two-piece device that is designed to allow some movement between the upper and lower jaw while sleeping. It is made of soft, flexible materials like silicone or thermoplastic resin, but it can also be made of hard acrylic like the one-piece MAD.
Regardless of the type, it’s important to use an FDA-approved oral appliance prescribed by a dental professional like Dr. Campbell or Dr. Sparks to ensure the device’s safety and effectiveness.