Are you yawning excessively throughout the day or constantly fighting the urge to nod off? If these symptoms sound familiar, you may be one of the 18 million adults who struggle with sleep problems such as snoring or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), according to the National Sleep Foundation. The answer to a sound night's sleep and improved quality of life may come from a surprising place: oral appliance therapy.
Do You Need Oral Appliance Therapy?
While men are the usual culprits, women snore too, especially during pregnancy and after menopause. However, other factors can contribute to a person's risk of snoring, says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), such as age, congestion from a cold or allergies, obesity, drinking alcohol or taking antidepressants. Losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sleeping on your side can often help solve a snoring problem.
Although light snoring may disturb your partner or roommate, it probably won't interfere with your quality of sleep. Nevertheless, heavy snoring can be a sign of a more serious sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which causes you to temporarily stop breathing while asleep.
The AASM writes that symptoms of OSA include frequent, loud snoring, often accompanied by gasping or choking sounds and pauses in breathing. Insomnia can be a sign, but most of the symptoms of OSA are noticeable during the day, such as sleepiness, morning headaches, problems concentrating and memory loss, as well as generally feeling irritable from lack of rest.
People with hypertension or excessive body weight suffer more frequently from OSA, and a neck size of 17 inches or more for men and 16 inches or more for women can be another contributing factor. Men are more prone than women, but heredity and physical features, such as a recessed jaw and large tongue, tonsils or uvula can also play a role.
If your snoring is interrupting everyone else's sleep or you have a case of OSA, a removable oral appliance worn at night may be a life-changing solution. These appliances are custom-made, and while there are more than 100 variations of FDA-approved options, notes the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, your dentist can determine which option is best for you. Patients often like that they're comfortable, portable and convenient for traveling and easy to take care of.
The American Sleep Apnea Association says that the majority of appliances are mandibular repositioning devices that shift the lower jaw forward, but there are also tongue retaining appliances. Both will keep your tongue from blocking your airway while you're sleeping. The AASM notes that an appliance can cause salivation, dry mouth and jaw discomfort and bite changes. Your dentist can help manage these problems if they occur.
Effective oral appliance therapy involves teamwork between a board-certified sleep medicine physician, who will do sleep studies to diagnose whether or not you have a sleep disorder, and a dentist who is specially trained in making appliances for OSA.
During the first dental visit, your dentist will discuss the pros and cons and cost of treatment, evaluate your airway, teeth, jaw and tongue and take an X-ray of your mouth. You will have impressions taken and models made of your teeth so that a laboratory can fabricate the appliance.
When it's ready, your dentist will fit your device and make any necessary adjustments to assure its comfortable fit and effectiveness. At this point, your dentist and doctor may want you to have another sleep study to confirm the treatment is working for you. Yearly assessments with your dentist are important, as is your commitment to wearing your appliance every night. Brushing the oral appliance with toothpaste can help keep it fresh.
Getting sufficient uninterrupted sleep is critical to your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Don't needlessly suffer the effects of snoring or OSA. Talk to your doctor or dentist about how oral appliance therapy might help you.