Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night. It is potentially serious, and treatment is recommended. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you could have sleep apnea. A diagnosis usually will require a referral to a sleep disorder center, which will determine the need for further evaluation. Overnight monitoring may be held in order to make the diagnosis and move on to choosing the best method of treatment.
The most common and reliable method of treating sleep apnea is with CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, which is a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask during sleep. Though it is effective, it can be cumbersome or uncomfortable. Other airway devices are also available. A simple option for treating sleep apnea that can be provided by your dentist is oral appliances.
Most oral appliances that aim to treat sleep apnea are designed to open the throat by bringing the jaw forward (called “mandibular repositioning dental appliances”), which can relieve snoring and mild obstructive sleep apnea. Others are “tongue retaining appliances.” Both reduce the chances of the tongue falling backward far enough to block the airway. Oral appliances can be easier to use than CPAP but are generally most effective at treating mild to moderate sleep apnea, rather than a severe case. These devices cannot be sold over-the-counter. Instead, they must be prescribed by a physician and fitted by a dentist, oral surgeon, or ENT who has sleep medicine experience.