by Lisa Maguire
There are three main types of sleep apnea – obstructive, central, and complex. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when the muscles in the throat relax and don’t allow proper airflow while breathing during sleep. Throughout the night, people with obstructive sleep apnea may stop breathing for 10 seconds or more at a time. The lack of breathing can lower oxygen levels in the blood throughout the night, causing a build-up of carbon dioxide. This triggers the brain to wake them up. The arousal is brief, and often the person may not remember waking up several times at night, however they may experience fatigue or drowsiness as a result. This is also strenuous on the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of strokes, heart attacks, heart disease, and heart failure.
Though there are some risk factors for developing sleep apnea, such as excess weight, age, narrow airways, high blood pressure, smoking, congestion, family history, and asthma, even if you are not high-risk it is important to get checked out if you suspect you may have sleep apnea.
Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea frequently includes the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. In an interview with Dr. Michael Rosen, DDS, MS, FAGD, LVIF of Pike Creek, Delaware, who has advanced training in treating obstructive sleep apnea, we discussed treatments and their effectiveness.
A CPAP machine works by pushing oxygen through the airway, which forces the relaxed muscles open and allows the oxygen to pass. “CPAP machines can be very effective, however, compliance with using the machine lessens over time. The machines can be noisy, restrictive, and uncomfortable at times,” he explains.
Dr. Rosen explains that there are alternatives to CPAP machines. One method is to use a dental appliance to alleviate OSA. There are hundreds available, and some serve different purposes. The one he recommends most often is ProSomnus®, which looks a bit like a cross between Invisalign® trays and a mouth guard. Dr. Rosen says that patients often report back that the dental appliance is more comfortable long-term and works just as well as the CPAP. It works by adjusting the lower jaw slightly forward, creating space for breath to get through the airway. This is also a great solution for those that have OSA and who are prone to teeth grinding or other activities that may irritate the jaw, causing or worsening temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ). TMJ is often a painful and difficult-to-treat affliction of the joint at which the jaw meets the skull.
Overall, Dr. Rosen wants people to take away that any inkling that you may have OSA should be investigated. “Think of the body like a D battery. The energy depletes over time. Your body needs energy to do many things – both consciously and unconsciously. If you’re not sleeping well, you can’t recharge your battery properly and then the body has to pick and choose which tasks to give the most attention. Breathing, fighting illness, pumping blood through your body, and completing simple and complex tasks all require energy. Correcting sleep issues can lead to a much higher quality of life.”