About 22 million adults in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea, a chronic condition that the National Institutes of Health says may increase your risk for serious and even life-threatening medical problems, like heart attacks, strokes, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even some cancers. Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that occurs when your airway "collapses" on itself during sleep. Typically, the tissues at the back of your throat become very relaxed and wind up descending into your airway, preventing normal breathing. Many people who have sleep apnea snore, choke, or gasp during sleep, but not everyone who has apnea experiences these symptoms.
For years, CPAP has been touted as the leading treatment for sleep apnea. While CPAP can be effective in reducing apnea and its dangerous side effects, the fact is, CPAP therapy can be cumbersome, inconvenient, and uncomfortable — and that means many people who suffer from apnea wind up avoiding treatment or not using their CPAP devices on a nightly basis.
At Lowes Island Dentistry, we help patients treat their sleep apnea using a special oral device that improves nighttime breathing while eliminating the need for CPAP equipment. Here’s how it works — and why so many patients prefer it to CPAP therapy.
CPAP: Pros and cons
CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, which more or less describes how the device works to help prevent sleep apnea. CPAP uses a mask, hoses, and a special machine to deliver a continuous stream of air to your nose and mouth while you sleep. This airflow helps keep your airway open so you can breathe more normally during the night. CPAP isn’t designed to cure sleep apnea; it’s designed to treat the symptoms as they occur, preventing your airway from being blocked so you don’t have interruptions in your normal breathing pattern. It makes sense, then, that CPAP is only effective when you wear the device. And in order to truly reduce your apnea risks, you need to use your CPAP equipment each and every night.
The problem with CPAP is that, even though it’s effective in reducing apnea and its side effects, many people find the mask uncomfortable and the hoses cumbersome. While wearing the mask, many patients find they can’t sleep as comfortably or as naturally as they normally do, and in some cases, the flow of air can be disruptive rather than conducive to quality sleep. Plus, since you’ll need to use the CPAP equipment every night, that means when you go on vacation, visit friends or family, or take a business trip, you need to lug that equipment with you. You also need to replace your masks and hoses frequently, and you need to maintain a careful cleaning routine to prevent germs from building up inside the mask and hoses.
Unfortunately, the drawbacks of CPAP have wound up creating compliance issues — that is, many people who have apnea wind up setting their CPAP equipment aside, leaving them open to the medical risks associated with sleep apnea. In fact, one recent study that reviewed the past 20 years of CPAP use found the rates of compliance remain “persistently low.”
Oral appliance therapy: An alternative CPAP treatment
At Lowes Island Dentistry, we offer oral appliance therapy (OAT), an innovative advance in sleep apnea treatment that helps patients get the treatment they need. OAT uses a custom appliance that’s designed specifically to prevent apnea and help you breathe normally at night. The appliance is similar in appearance to a night guard or a sports mouth guard, but there’s an important difference: The apnea appliance is designed to gently shift your jaw forward while you sleep, helping to widen your airway naturally and prevent breathing interruptions as well as snoring.
Your OAT device will be made just for you, so it's comfortable to use and won't interrupt your good night's sleep. You won't have to worry about your sleep position since there's no mask to worry about and no hoses to accidentally disconnect. Plus, like a mouth guard, the OAT device is small, making it easy to take with you on trips. Caring for your device is simple too — just brush it with a soft bristle brush when you take it out in the morning and store it in its case until the next night.
If you've been diagnosed with sleep apnea, oral appliance therapy could be a great option, helping you get the treatment you need without the hassles of CPAP. To learn more about OAT and how it can help you, book an appointment online today.