Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder that has typically been treated through surgery or by using a breathing mask—until now.
The field of sleep dentistry is moving to the forefront of the profession. Using oral appliance therapy, dentists can treat patients who suffer from sleep apnea, which causes them to stop breathing throughout the night and can lead to heart disease and stroke.
After a patient has been assessed and referred by a sleep doctor, a dentist fits the patient with a mouthguard-like appliance. “You can move the lower jaw forward to open up the airway,” says Dr. Joseph Catanzano of Foxhall Smiles in DC.
The mouthpiece is an alternative to a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which emits air through a breathing mask. While CPAPs remain the gold-standard treatment, patients often experience discomfort when using them, including nasal congestion, dry eyes, and a sore throat. Although the oral appliance—which is fitted to both the upper and lower jaw—may cause a slight change to a patient’s bite, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine endorses it for treatment of mild to moderate sleep apnea in adults. A custom appliance starts at $2,000.
To find a dentist qualified to treat sleep apnea, visit the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine’s website.