Problems with Snoring?  Concerns about Sleep Apnea?

A Conversation with Orthodontist Dr. Rebecca Chen

Snoring is frustrating and affects the quality of life of individuals suffering from it and those who sleep near them.   While many believe snoring is a noisy and harmless condition, it can be a warning sign of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a common and potentially severe sleep associated breathing disorder that can profoundly affect our health.  Sleeper suffering from OSA disorder can stop breathing for 10 seconds or more.  In fact, an estimated 18 million Americans have this problem and only 2 million have been treated.  Good news is an orthodontist is well suited for treatment of OSA patients due to their expertise and knowledge regarding orofacial and dentofacial structures as well as orthopedic, orthodontic and surgical correction of the jaws and other supporting tissues.  Let us help you and your spouse get a good night’s sleep.

What is Sleep Apnea?  How bad is it?

While snoring is a social problem, it is also a key symptom of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a sleep-associated disorder of breathing with a reduction or complete airflow obstruction despite an ongoing effort by patient for breathing. It usually occurs during sleep, where muscles relax and causes collapse of the soft tissues present in the back of the throat which leads to upper airway blockage. Consequently, there are partial and complete pauses in breathing that last at least 10 seconds during sleep. As oxygen intake drops, the brain alerts the body which causes a brief arousal from sleep to restore normal breathing pattern. This can occur hundred times in one night resulting in fragmented sleep and causes sleepiness during daytime. Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical concern, if left untreated can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, daytime sleepiness, diabetes, chronic acid reflux, depression and other health problems. 

How can Sleep Apnea be treated?

Fortunately, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can be treated.  One of the most common and effective  treatment is oral appliance therapy.  Oral appliance therapy uses a mouth guard like device, worn only during sleep, to maintain an open, unobstructed airway.  Research shows that oral appliance therapy is an effective treatment option for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.  With oral appliance therapy, an oral appliance is worn in the mouth only while you sleep and fits like a sports mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer.  Oral appliances support your jaw in a forward position to help maintain an open upper airway.  Oral appliances also are quiet, portable and easy to care for.  Your orthodontist will recommend the device that is best for you.

Who can treat my Sleep Apnea?

Oral appliance therapy should be provided by a qualified dentist or orthodontist who has technical skill and knowledge in dental sleep medicine.  Training in how to provide oral appliance therapy is uncommon in dental schools.  So not all dentists have the training or experience to provide optimal care for adults with snoring or sleep apnea.  Orthodontists, with extra years of graduate school training, are well suited for treatment of OSA patients due to their expertise and knowledge regarding growth and development of orofacial and dentofacial structures as well as orthodontic correction of the jaws and other supporting tissues.  Patients often find their symptoms and quality of life improve significantly when they remain committed to the treatment and use it nightly.  With treatment, you will likely sleep better, have more energy and feel sharper throughout the day. You may find that your bed partner begins to sleep better, too!

Information Source: American Association of Orthodontics, American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, Journal of Orthodontics & Endodontics, Dear Doctor Dentistry & Oral Health