Sleep apnea occurs when breathing is temporarily or continuously stopped during sleep. This condition disrupts the regular sleep cycle, forcing patients to cough or gasp as they wake up suddenly from rest. Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night, sometimes for up to 30 seconds at a time. Untreated sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, tiredness, liver function problems, stroke, or even heart failure. A CPAP is frequently the first course of treatment, but many people seek for a CPAP alternative.
Once sleep apnea is diagnosed, a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is used to keep the airway open during sleep if sleep apnea is detected. A motor, as well as a tube that joins to a facemask, make up a CPAP. The device delivers a constant stream of air and prevents the airways from collapsing while you sleep.
Using a CPAP
Patients who undergo the treatment with a CPAP may find it difficult to use a mask during sleep. The need for a CPAP substitute is caused by ambient noise from the motor, an ineffective facemask fit, or discomfort from the mask. In some situations, the machine causes chest and stomach discomfort. Patients that have experienced an increase in dry mouth, throat irritation, and nosebleeds should discontinue the use of a CPAP.
Alternative therapies may be recommended if a patient is having difficulties using a CPAP machine. Environmental factors such as noise, light, and air pollution may be addressed to decrease or eliminate sleep apnea:
- Avoid alcohol – consuming too much alcohol can disrupt sleep
- Adjust sleep position – sleeping on one’s side may alleviate mild sleep apnea
- Exercise regularly – regular exercise can improve sleep in some patients
- Lose excess weight – 70% of obstructive sleep apnea patients are overweight
- Use a nasal decongestant – for mild sleep apnea or snoring, a decongestant may deter sleep apnea
- Undergo surgery – severe cases of airway obstruction may require surgery
A mouth guard, when used correctly, might be a suitable CPAP alternative in some situations. The angle of the lower jaw may be adjusted with a custom fitted oral appliance while sleeping to keep the airway open. Some mouth guards include a splint to prevent the tongue from obstructing airflow.
A dental device is inserted into the mouth before sleep in order to hold the tongue or jaw in a forward position. This prevents obstruction of the airway and decreases snoring and sleep apnea.
Mouthpieces are produced from different materials, such as silicone, latex, acrylic, or metal. They can be molded to fit your mouth precisely or be adjustable.
How to Get an Oral Appliance for Sleep Apnea
The first step in getting an oral appliance to treat your sleep apnea is to find a dentist trained and experienced in sleep medicine. You can ask your doctor for a referral or find one on your own.
Once you’ve found a dentist, he or she will evaluate your specific case and take impressions of your teeth so that the mouthpiece can be custom-made to fit you.
You’ll also have a sleep study done to determine how severe your sleep apnea is and what type of dental device will be most effective for you.
After your mouthpiece is made, you’ll need to return to the dentist so he or she can check to make sure it fits properly.
It’s important that you wear your dental device every night and clean it regularly to prevent gum disease, tooth decay, and other dental problems. If you have any questions or concerns about your dental device, be sure to talk to your dentist.
There are a few different types of dental devices that can be used to treat sleep apnea:
- Tongue retaining devices
- Chin straps
Mouthpieces are the most common type of dental device used to treat sleep apnea. They work by holding the tongue or jaw in a forward position so that the airway stays open.
Tongue retaining devices are less common than mouthpieces, but they may be recommended if you have a large tongue or a small jaw. These devices work by holding the tongue in place so that it doesn’t block the airway.
Chin straps are occasionally used in conjunction with a mouthpiece or tongue retaining device. They work by keeping the lower jaw in a forward position so that the airway stays open.
If you think you might benefit from using a dental appliance to treat your sleep apnea, talk to your doctor or dentist. He or she can help you decide if this is the right treatment option for you.
Call Dr. Cross today at (301) 662-0300 to schedule a consultation so that we can discuss sleep apnea and CPAP alternatives.