Sleep apnea is a potentially deadly condition. The frequent long pauses in your breathing disrupt your entire body. They keep you from getting good sleep, so your mood, attention, and memory suffer. They disrupt your body’s metabolism, making it hard for you to properly utilize energy. And they stress your heart, leading to high blood pressure and an elevated risk of heart attack or stroke. The combination of effects can make you as much as six times more likely to die from any cause over the next 15 years or so.
Fortunately, sleep apnea is treatable. Unfortunately, the most common treatment for sleep apnea fails many people who try it.
CPAP: the “Gold Standard” of Sleep Apnea Treatment
The treatment your doctor is most likely to prescribe for sleep apnea is CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). The principle of CPAP is simple: it blows air into your nose or mouth at high pressure. This pressure forces your throat to stay open. And because it’s constantly blowing into your throat, you’re getting air even if your body stops breathing, a rare form of sleep apnea. CPAP is essentially 100% effective at treating sleep apnea.
If you use it. And that’s the problem with CPAP: it’s hard for people to keep using it. Most of the time, less than half of people keep using their CPAP devices after about a year to meet the compliance standard (at least 4 hours a night on 40% of nights). With intense follow-up and close supervision by doctors, the compliance rate can be increased to 70%, but even then there are 30% of people who can’t adjust to CPAP.
Why People Can’t Adjust to CPAP
So what makes CPAP such a hard treatment to adjust to? There are many complaints people have about CPAP, including:
- Irritating masks
- Straps that cause breakouts
- Dry throat and mouth
- Strong pressure in the throat
- Confining hoses
- Feelings of claustrophobia
You can see why many of these things can be dealt with if your doctor takes care and follows up. Better adjustments of masks and the pressure in the hose can help a lot. In addition, accessories like humidifiers and heaters can make a difference.
But, as we said, many people simply can’t adjust to CPAP, and even if they can, they’d rather have a more comfortable and convenient option.
Fortunately, there is one.
Oral Appliance Therapy, an Alternative to CPAP
For most people, sleep apnea occurs because the throat collapses during sleep / When you fall asleep, your muscles relax, and gravity pulls your airway closed. The key is figuring out how to keep your airway open. CPAP pushes it open with air, which is partly uncomfortable because it’s an unnatural way to keep the airway open. Oral appliances use your body’s natural support mechanisms to hold your airway open.
Your jaw is the main bony support for your airway. If it could stay in a proper position on its own, it would hold the airway open on its own. However, the jaw tends to sag backward when you sleep, too. An oral appliance holds your jaw forward. This keeps your airway open so you can breathe easily and sleep deeply.
Oral appliances are easy to use. You just put it in your mouth when you go to sleep, like a sports mouthguard. You can adjust it if you need to, but it’s easy to do that, too. And because it’s easy, people use it more often. The compliance rate for oral appliances is about 95% when measured using the same standard as CPAP.
Get Effective Sleep Apnea Treatment
You don’t have to get a CPAP machine for your sleep apnea, even if your doctor prescribes it. Oral appliances are recommended frontline treatment for most people with sleep apnea, and they’re covered by insurance. If your doctor doesn’t know about oral appliances or only recommends CPAP, you should get a second opinion.
At Smile On Dental Studio in St. Louis, we can evaluate you for an oral appliance. If you can’t adjust to CPAP or don’t even want to try it, please call (314) 678-7876 today for an appointment with sleep dentist Dr. Chris Hill.