Have sleep apnea but hate your CPAP?
Nov. 2, 2009 at 5:02 a.m.
Updated Nov. 3, 2009 at 5:03 a.m.
Sleep apnea is a very serious condition. The Greek word "apnea" literally means "without breath." When people stop breathing for periods of 10 seconds or longer and do this repeatedly throughout the night, bad things can happen to the body.
This condition is now called Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Untreated, OSA can cause headaches, weight gain, high blood pressure, and even cardiovascular disease.
People who do not get a good night's sleep have a hard time functioning during the day and statistics say they have more wrecks while driving. Most people who have apnea also snore, so their sleep problem certainly becomes a problem for the persons who sleep with them.
Recently, I attended a continuing education course on sleep apnea and participants were required to do their own sleep study and have an oral appliance made. At the end of the first day I was given a take-home device called "Watch-Pat 200."
With this device, one has to put a large watch on the left wrist. The watch has wires that attach to the fingers and one to the chest. It monitors body position, snoring, pulse, oxygen saturation, and apnea events, where one stops breathing. The next day, the entire class went over the results. The verdict was in - I snore.
The primary treatment for sleep apnea is a type of respiratory ventilation where continuous positive airway pressure is used to keep a patient's air passage open and stop any breathing obstructions. The CPAP devices are a lifesaver for millions of people who suffer from sleep apnea, but they only work if they are used. They are by far the most effective treatment for apnea, but many people simply don't use them effectively.
They can be very cumbersome, especially if one travels a lot. Some estimates put overall long-term compliance rates as low as 30 percent. The reasons for non-compliance are many and varied.
Dentists are now getting involved with sleep specialists and sleep clinics. Our profession cannot officially diagnose sleep apnea, but we can fabricate a mouth guard-like device that has FDA approval for certain apnea patients.
These new appliances are officially called Mandibular Advancement Devices. They work by pulling the lower jaw forward. This action causes the tongue to come forward, which opens the back of the throat. To make the appliance, a dentist needs to take impressions of both jaws and a couple of bite records. The appliance is adjustable according to the patient's needs.
The mouth appliances are excellent for mild apnea. If you have sleep apnea but simply cannot wear the CPAP mask, ask your doctor about an oral appliance. I can assure you that I wear mine every night, and it fits nicely into my diddy bag when I travel.
Mac Lee is a dentist in practice in Edna. He is the co-founder of Dentists Who Care, a national movement to educate the public on modern dentistry. If you have dental questions you can call him at 361-782-7191 or visit him at www.drmaclee.com.