A: Great question! The whole area of sleep medicine and dentistry is growing rapidly. Physicians and dentists are more aware of the serious consequences of untreated sleep disorders. These may range from snoring to restless leg syndrome to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) as well as other less common health concerns.
Dentists are the only health professionals that are able to make an oral appliance to treat snoring or sleep apnea. The dental appliance, when properly fitted and managed, is a very effective treatment and may be used as a replacement for the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask and equipment. It is most often used for milder cases of OSA or when CPAP equipment can’t be tolerated by a patient.
A dentist cannot make a diagnosis of OSA. This needs to be done by a medical doctor. Many times a patient’s primary care physician will refer a patient for a sleep study to be done by a board certified sleep physician. That doctor will make the diagnosis and recommend treatment.
CPAP is still the gold standard for treatment of OSA, but oral appliances are growing in popularity as a viable option in many cases. Oral appliances are more convenient to wear; there is no bulky equipment, nothing covering your face, or pressurized air involved.
The oral appliance works by holding the lower jaw forward. This positions the tongue forward and the airway is opened. The amount that the lower jaw is held forward is calibrated by the dentist to balance comfort and effectiveness.
It is important that you do not diagnose yourself. There are very serious consequences for untreated sleep apnea, including daytime sleepiness, drowsy driving, low energy and cardiovascular disease. If you think you may have a sleep disorder, please talk to your dentist or physician so you can get a proper diagnosis and treatment.
If you have any further questions about oral appliances for sleep apnea, please feel free to contact Dr. Petronio at email@example.com, call our office at 716.652.0190, or go to AADSM.org to find a dentist in your area.