Sleep Apnea Masks May Change Face

Your face might stick like that.

That’s according to a Japanese study on breathing masks often prescribed to treat sleep apnea. The research of Hiorko Tsuda, Ph.D., assistant professor in the general oral clinic at Kyushu University Hospital in Japan, found possible craniofacial change after long-term use of a treatment called continuous positive airway pressure.

Dr. Tsuda reports his findings in the October issue of CHEST Journal.

CPAP therapy is usually the first treatment sought by patients diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. The disorder is characterized by an upper airway narrowing that blocks airflow and continuously disrupts sleep.

CPAP therapy is typically a long-term treatment that involves wearing a full-face or nose mask while sleeping to drive continuous pressure through the airways and keep them open to maintain unobstructed breathing.

Dr. Tsuda’s study focused on 46 Japanese sleep apnea patients, 90 percent of whom were men, who were being treated at Kirigaoka Tsuda Hospital’s Sleep Center in Japan between 2005 and 2006. X-rays were performed to assess facial structure with respect to the patients’ facial height, jaw placement and tooth positions.

While none of the patients reported noticing any facial changes, the researchers noticed apparent differences including a reduction in the prominence in both the upper and lower jaws as a result of shifting dental arches and incisor tooth placement.

Dr. Tsuda and his team believe the benefits of CPAP outweigh the side effects but that patients should be made aware of the possible consequences.

“I would never say that CPAP users should stop using their CPAP because of this side effect,” Dr. Tsuda said. He would say that more investigation is needed, which may result in design changes to the CPAP masks.

© American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.