According to the American Sleep Apnea Association: sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, have become a significant health issue in the US. It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80 percent of the cases of moderate and severe OSA undiagnosed. As the source of sleep apnea is “oral based” – some dentists have now taken this disorder on as a specialty.
Dr. Warren Boardman, an American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine (ABDSM) Diplomate and dental sleep expert at BCC Sleep in Ridgewood, NJ, says sleep apnea can be a very serious and possibly deadly disorder. OSA when left untreated can lead to high blood pressure, chronic heart failure, atrial fibrillation, stroke and other cardiovascular problems.
Aside from irregular snoring, other symptoms of sleep apnea include: morning headaches, impaired concentration, short-term memory loss, depression, irritability, reduced sex drive and motivation. Potential causes for having/developing sleep apnea include:
- Age (over 40)
- Substance abuse
- Enlarged tonsils/tongue
- Small jaw bone
- Dental overbite
- Large neck
- Deviated septum
- Allergies/sinus problems
“Not effectively treating sleep apnea can cut a person’s life by 15-20 years. The earlier that a patient seeks help for possible sleep apnea, the better,” says Dr. Boardman. “Physicians, psychiatrists and sleep dentists are now starting to work together to administer the most effective therapies with higher compliance rates.”
The three main options for treating sleep apnea are continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), oral appliance therapy and weight loss – or, a combination of them. CPAP has been the standard treatment; however, it can cause discomfort, embarrassment and inconvenience. Its compliance rate is only about 30-50% according to Dr. Boardman.
A newer treatment option, oral appliance therapy, is becoming popular. Oral appliance therapy can be recommended as a first-line choice for mild to moderate sleep apnea or as an alternate treatment for more severe cases that could not tolerate CPAP.
These oral devices allow for optimal air-flow (enabling a restful sleep), help prevent snoring, are comfortable and easy to use, eliminate the need for extensive CPAP equipment in the bedroom (mask, tank, regulator, etc.). Their compliance rate approaches nearly 85 – 90%.
OSA is a serious medical condition. However, Dr. Boardman notes there are more options than ever before to personalize patient treatment plans, based on the severity of their sleep apnea and also their lifestyle. Don’t ignore the symptoms of sleep apnea. Treatments can help lead you to a safer and more restful life.