Living with sleep apnea? You may be able to switch from a CPAP machine to a dental appliance | Sponsored Content
For years, a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea meant one thing: a lifetime of nights
For years, a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea meant one thing: a lifetime of nights tethered to a forced air machine (CPAP). Now, many sleep apnea sufferers are learning that a trip to a specially trained dentist may be just what the doctor orders.
Dr. Matt Patterson, who focuses exclusively on dental sleep medicine and is founder of Lancaster Snoring and Sleep Center, offers an alternative: an oral appliance that is less cumbersome, easier to clean and equally effective.
Sleep apnea affects nearly 22 million Americans. People tend to equate the condition with overweight, middle-aged men, but it can affect anyone at any age.
Because it interrupts breathing, sleep apnea can have consequences far beyond snoring or a poor night’s rest. Left untreated, it can lead to teeth grinding, head and neck pain, excessive daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, diabetes and numerous other serious health issues. While apnea can occur if the brain fails to send a signal for the chest to expand, the most common cause is an obstruction at the top of the throat due to throat muscles weakening with age, weight gain that constricts the airway, or the tongue and soft palate dropping back and closing the airway.
When any of these conditions occur, there is no way for air to get in, even as the chest tries to inflate. The telltale signs are disruptive snoring, cessation of breathing for ten seconds or longer, gasping or choking.
Machines such as continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) devices, effectively treat sleep apnea by forcing air down the throat and into the lungs. But they’re not for everyone, including Dr. Patterson.
“I used one for about two years and I hated it, but I used it because I knew I had to,” he says. People struggle to wear the mask, especially if they are claustrophobic. Other complaints include difficulty breathing, swallowing air, skin marks and rashes, and noise.
“Probably the most common complaint is air leaking out,” he says. ”And if you don’t clean them, the hoses become just a factory for bacteria and infection.”
Some simply can’t stand wearing the apparatus while they sleep, so they don’t.
“Many people don’t comply – they take them off,” he says. “It’s really not doing you any good if you’re not wearing it.”
As a dentist, Dr. Patterson sought a more practical solution and literally took matters into his own hands.
After reading about the effectiveness of oral appliances in treating sleep apnea, he headed to one of the leading institutes in the country for advanced dental training and learned how to make them.
“I made one for myself and I never looked back,” he says. “It was just a world of difference.”
So much so that he left general practice and opened the Lancaster Snoring and Sleep Center to bring other sleep apnea sufferers the same relief. His practice is one of only two in the area focused solely on dental sleep medicine and recognized by the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. The function of the oral appliance is to open the airway by gently supporting the jaw in a forward position.
Appliances are typically made from an acrylic polymer, often with a 3D printer. About the size of an athletic mouthguard, they fit similarly over the upper and lower teeth. In fact, patients who have previously used athletic mouthguards will notice little difference. Much like other orthodontic appliances, they come with a key that can gradually adjust the appliance, typically by a fraction of a millimeter at a time
While Dr. Patterson treats obstructive sleep apnea, he does not diagnose the condition. Before treating a patient, he requires a sleep study by a licensed sleep physician confirming the diagnosis.
The process of fitting someone for an oral appliance begins with a comprehensive exam and a scan of the patient’s jaw and teeth to get precise measurements. The scan is sent to a dental lab, which manufactures the appliance to the design and specifications he provides.
“It has to be custom fitted to your own jaw,” Dr. Patterson says. “The jaw movement you perform to open the area, it has to be done gradually, it has to be done very, very carefully and precisely and tailored to each individual.”
In addition to greater comfort, the device is easier to clean and far more convenient for traveling, since it is small and does not require electricity or a long battery life. Because they are Class II Durable Medical Equipment, insurance and Medicare often cover custom appliances for those who can’t tolerate a forced air machine.
Of course, for Dr. Patterson and the hundreds of patients he’s treated, the most important benefit is that it works.
“A lot of sleep physicians are still of the mind that the oral appliances aren’t as effective as forced air,” he says. “But for mild to moderate sleep apnea and disruptive snoring, they are every bit as effective, and compliance is far better.”
Ultimately, the goal of White Family Dental is healthy, happy patients of all ages. Don’t let poor sleep and snoring affect your life. Visit www.whitefamilydental.com/