Between 18 and 20 million people in the US suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Apnea is the obstruction of breathing which occurs when the tissues in the upper airway come too close together during sleep, temporarily blocking the inflow of air. Until very recently, only the most severe cases were able to be detected and diagnosed, and non-surgical treatment was limited to the CPAP, an air pressure device worn as a mask during sleep. This left those with mild to moderate apnea, if diagnosed, with the most inconvenient and expensive option in treatment.

Oral Appliances are an Effective Alternative

While the CPAP is the most familiar treatment, it is not the only treatment available for eliminating or reducing the interrupted breathing caused by sleep apnea. In many patients, oral appliance therapy (OAT) is an effective alternative.  Oral appliance therapy refers to the use of a specially made dental appliance worn to treat mild to moderate sleep apnea. Dentists trained in sleep medicine make the devices, and fit them specifically to each patient. Oral appliance therapy is more appealing and affordable than other therapies, and also well-tolerated by a larger group of sleep apnea patients.

How Do Oral Appliances Work? 

After an initial evaluation by a dentist, technicians create the oral appliance specific to the patient’s mouth and indications. The device helps reposition the lower jaw forward during sleep, creating an open airway and helping prevent the collapse of the tongue and soft tissues of the throat.

What are the Advantages of Oral Appliances?

The oral appliance is easier and more convenient to use than other standard therapies, which leads to increased compliance and greater treatment success. Unlike the CPAP which forces air into the patient’s airway and is not well tolerated by many patients, the oral appliance gently moves the lower mouth forward during sleep letting the patient breathe naturally.

Are Over-the-counter Appliances a Good Option?

Sleep apnea is a serious medical disorder, so proper treatment is important to the patient’s health. Because of this, custom-made oral appliances are always recommended over mail-order or over-the-counter devices for many reasons:

  • Custom devices are much more successful in treatment
  • Dental professionals use health grade materials in creating oral appliances
  • Oral appliance therapy requires short-term and long-term follow-up to assure proper treatment
  • Medical professionals need to monitor the patient’s physical response to the oral appliance

While the oral appliance is an effective treatment for many patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea, it is important that each patient only use devices specifically made for them by a dentist trained in sleep medicine.

Contact us at Center for TMJ Therapy in Alpharetta now to learn more.

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