Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition where the breath stops multiple times during sleep due to an obstruction in the airway. It’s a serious medical condition that can have long-term consequences to a person’s health and is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. It also affects quality of life, as OSA reduces sleep quality and leads to daytime fatigue and forgetfulness.
(Usually) Traditionally, the first line of treatment for OSA is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which must be prescribed by a doctor. This is a machine that provides a steady flow of air into a person’s airways through a mask that fits in the nose or covers the nose and mouth. While CPAP machines are very effective at keeping the airways open at night, many people dislike them and discontinue use. This can have dangerous health consequences.
Fortunately, there is a very effective alternative to the CPAP machine.
An Alternative to CPAP: Oral Appliances
An oral appliance is simply something you wear in your mouth at night, like a retainer or mouth guard. But the oral appliances we use with our patients are much more sophisticated than the moldable plastic night guards you’ve likely seen at the drugstore. Instead, they are specially designed (orthopedic) custom devices that are created according to each patient’s needs. The appliance fits the upper teeth and is worn all night long. It works by stabilizing the jaw joint in a neutral position and preventing the tongue from falling back into the throat and obstructing the airway.
An oral appliance is less cumbersome and more comfortable than a CPAP machine for the vast majority of people and that means there’s a higher chance they will stick with it.
Diagnosing and Treating Sleep Apnea
If you think you have sleep apnea but aren’t sure, the first step is to have a sleep study done so you can get a diagnosis. Talk to your doctor about having a sleep study done. Some common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Waking gasping for breath
- Daytime sleepiness
- Dark circles under your eyes
- Getting up at night to urinate
- Chronic pain
Although OSA can sometimes be resolved completely through weight loss or surgery on the tissues that are blocking the airway, usually a diagnosis of OSA means long-term treatment. That’s why it’s important to find a treatment that not only works for you, but is one you’ll actually stick with. We’ve seen great results for our patients using oral appliances and if you have OSA and live in the Chicago area, we invite you to make an appointment to talk about whether an oral appliance might be right for you.