Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a common condition that affects individuals from all age groups but is more common in adults. It is classified as a sleep disorder, and is characterized by a physical symptom known as “sleep disordered breathing.” During sleep, sufferers of OSA experience intermittent total or partial loss of their airway. This obstruction is caused by the relaxation of the tissue structures that form the forward part of the pharynx. This same phenomenon causes snoring, but not all persons who snore have OSA.
When the airway is obstructed, the sufferer is deprived of air. A deoxygenation of the blood results until forced contractions of the diaphragm muscle forces open the pharynx and breathing can resume.
OSA results in a disruption of the normal sleeping process as recorded in electrical brain activity and eye movements. This may be detectable to the OSA sufferer as excessive daytime sleepiness despite attempts to get sufficient hours of sleep. More importantly, OSA has been strongly linked to systemic conditions that affect life span and quality of life. Included among these are hypertention, heart disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), CVA or stroke, atherosclerosis, arrhythmias, atrial fibrillations, congestive heart failure, and type 2 diabetes. There is currently new research suggesting a possible link between OSA and Alzheimer’s disease, though this research is in the early stages. It is believed that severe OSA sufferers may have their life spans significantly shortened by the adverse effects of OSA.
The gold standard initial therapy for the treatment of OSA is CPAP, which stands for “controlled positive airway pressure.” It involves the nightly wearing of a facial mask and hose which delivers humidified air under a designated pressure to reduce or eliminate loss of oxygen exchange. CPAP is recognized as the most effective therapy to combat OSA. As such, we highly encourage the use of CPAP and recommend it to all our patients who have been diagnosed with OSA.
Unfortunately, a major drawback of CPAP is that it is poorly tolerated by many patients. The appliance is large, uncomfortable, disruptive to many people’s sleep, and makes a constant noise which, while not terribly loud, is very disruptive to some people. It is also inconvenient to take along when traveling. Though effective, surveys demonstrate disappointing statistics in the area of patient compliance.
Treatment with an oral dental appliance worn throughout the night has demonstrated surprisingly effective results in comparison to CPAP. For patients diagnosed with OSA, and who are intolerant of CPAP therapy, Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT) may serve as an effective treatment alternative to CPAP. This fact has been observed and embraced not only by the dental profession, but by medical sleep specialists throughout the world.
See Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT) to learn more.