Many people — and their sleep partners — must deal with the effects of chronic snoring. More than just an annoyance, snoring is frequently a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Although the most commonly prescribed treatment for OSA is CPAP therapy, Dr. James P. Furgurson and Dr. Nathan O. White of the Chapel Hill Family & Cosmetic Dentistry can help patients with OSA with an alternative form of treatment: an oral appliance that prevents snoring while you sleep.
Q: What are the symptoms and risks of sleep apnea?
Those with OSA may notice some symptoms such as loud snoring, routine daytime sleepiness, general fatigue, insomnia, loud snoring, choking or gasping for air in your sleep, headaches and irritability. What makes sleep apnea different from regular snoring is that people with OSA actually stop breathing during their sleep due to a blockage in the upper airway. This inability to breathe while sleeping can prevent oxygen from reaching your organs and increase your risk for heart disorders such as stroke, heart attack, and hypertension. When the oxygen levels in the person’s blood drop, it causes the body to wake up and gasp for air. Many people who suffer from OSA are unaware that they stop breathing while they sleep.
Q: What causes sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is most commonly associated with being overweight. The obstruction occurs when the muscles relax during sleep. When this happens, the soft tissues in the rear of the throat may collapse and cover the airway. This restricts the person’s airflow to the rest of their body and may cause them to awaken multiple times overnight gasping for air. The person with OSA tends to wake up feeling tired and may sometimes fall asleep during the day, and have issues with memory and concentration. The prevalence of sleep apnea increases with age and it is estimated that as many as 50% of elderly men and women suffer from the disorder.
Q: How is sleep apnea diagnosed?
Diagnosing a sleep-related breathing disorder such as OSA usually involves the dentist as well as the patient’s physician and/or other specialists. Diagnostic imaging such as x-rays may be done to examine the airway and look for signs of blockage. A sleep study may need to be performed, either at home or at a specialist’s office, to evaluate the quality of sleep.
Q: Isn’t sleep apnea treated with CPAP therapy? How does the oral appliance work?
Although CPAP therapy continues to be the most commonly prescribed sleep apnea treatment, an oral appliance offers a similar result without a mask and air tubes. Both are different ways of preventing the airway from collapsing during sleep, when the soft tissues in the mouth are more relaxed.
With CPAP a constant airflow keeps the airway open during sleep. However, patient compliance with CPAP therapy can be a problem as some find the masks that must be worn to administer the treatment uncomfortable. The oral appliance, however, is custom-fitted to the patient’s mouth to be as comfortable as possible. The appliance positions their jaw in order to prevent the tissues in the mouth from blocking the airway when they relax and it is tough enough to stand up to teeth grinding..
Q: How comfortable is a sleep apnea oral appliance?
Dr. Furgurson meets with patients for an individual consultation in which the mouth is examined so that he can be sure your appliance will fit correctly and comfortably. Although the device repositions the jaw, it’s designed to fit comfortably in the patient’s mouth so your sleep is disturbed as little as possible. Most patients report that the appliance is effective in reducing snoring, leading to better sleep, more energy, a better memory and an overall better mood throughout the day.
Q: Do I have to see a dentist to get it?
Although a medical doctor or pulmonary specialist will have to diagnose you with sleep apnea, your dentist can treat you once it has been diagnosed. The oral appliance is comfortable and effective because it is custom-fitted to the individual patient’s mouth. Dr. Furgurson will discuss your needs with you, gather precise measurements and the specific details about your mouth to ensure the device is as comfortable as possible.
Sleep Apnea Treatment in Chapel Hill, NC
Dr. Furgurson and Dr. White are ready to discuss sleep apnea treatment or any other dental concern you may have. To schedule a consultation at Chapel Hill Family & Cosmetic Dentistry, call 919.205.9308 or contact us online today.