For many cases of sleep apnea, oral appliance therapy is a front-line treatment; particularly for patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). It is often an easier course of treatment than more traditional methods; such as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP. Oral appliances work to keep your throat and airway open for proper air intake.
How Oral Appliances Work
Sleep apnea occurs when your airway closes at night. This is partly due to anatomy. The jaw is the main bony support for your airway, and for many of us, the jaw is too far back to effectively hold the airway open. That’s why most oral appliances are mandibular advancement devices (MADs)–they move your jaw forward to keep your airway from collapsing at night.
This is an easy and comfortable solution. And it’s effective. In fact, studies show that oral appliances are just as effective as CPAP at treating sleep apnea. Mainly, this is due to compliance. Compliance with oral appliances is much higher than with CPAP. With CPAP, only about half of all people meet the compliance standard for CPAP (a minimum of 4 hours a night on 70% of nights). When compliance for oral appliances is measured this way, they achieve a 95% compliance rate. Even more significant, 84% of patients wear their oral appliances “all night every night.” This means that they are receiving treatment for their sleep apnea more regularly.
Benefits of Oral Appliances
Why do people use their oral appliances more regularly than their CPAP. That’s easy: they offer so many benefits. Oral appliances:
- Are comfortable
- Are easy to use
- Don’t require complex cleaning
- Don’t need an outlet
- Can be transported easily
- Don’t make you feel smothered
All these benefits make oral appliances so much easier to use every night than CPAP. But these aren’t the only benefits. With CPAP, there are many pieces of equipment that you have to replace regularly, making the equipment expensive to maintain long-term. But with an oral appliance, you just buy the appliance and you are unlikely to need any additional equipment.
Candidates for An Oral Appliance
The standards of care for sleep apnea patients will vary according to which type of sleep apnea they have and/or how well they respond to treatment. Here are the types of patients an oral appliance may work for patients who:
- Have less severe sleep apnea or who have refused other forms of treatment
- Require both CPAP and an oral appliance for successful treatment
- Are non-responsive to treatments such as changing sleep position or weight loss
Oral appliances used to be considered a backup treatment for use when CPAP failed. These days, they are considered a frontline treatment, and most insurance companies are happy to cover the cost of an oral appliance if you are a reasonable candidate.
Our Fairfax dentist, Dr. Pamela Marzban, has a number of technologies available for patients who suffer from sleep apnea. Recently, our dental office has acquired the new WatchPAT ™ portable, diagnostic device. This wrist-worn wearable device provides real-time sleep study information, used to determine the best course of treatment for your sleep apnea. We also offer myofunctional therapy, which is a way to retrain your muscles in ways that can reduce or even eliminate sleep apnea in some cases.