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Why Dental Devices Are Becoming Popular CPAP Alternatives

Sleep apnea is a condition that affects an estimated 25 million people in the U.S. The most common form of sleep apnea – obstructive sleep apnea – is usually treated with a CPAP machine, but many people do not get good results with this bulky machine. Fortunately, there are CPAP alternatives out there, including dental devices. Here’s what you should know.

Why do so many people struggle with CPAP machines for sleep apnea?

In obstructive sleep apnea, the sleeper’s throat muscles relax to such an extent that the tongue eases into the back of their mouth, blocking the airway. Once the brain realizes that it isn’t getting oxygen, the sleeper takes a dramatic, gasping breath.

They often don’t wake completely from sleep as this happens. For more severe obstructive sleep apnea, sleepers may stop breathing five to ten times an hour, every hour, for an entire night’s sleep.

For moderate to severe sleep apnea, you need more aggressive intervention. The health risks for untreated sleep apnea include:

Accidents, cognitive decline (including an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease), and decreased sex drive have also all been linked to poor quality sleep.

Lifestyle interventions for sleep apnea

Common sleep apnea treatments begin with lifestyle interventions. These include working on maintaining a healthy weight, as obesity is a major risk factor for developing sleep apnea.

Cutting back or completely eliminating alcohol consumption and quitting smoking may also reduce your risk of developing sleep apnea. If you are taking prescription depressants for another health condition, they could be contributing to the development of sleep apnea as well. Talk to your doctor before making any changes or discontinuing the use of prescribed medications.

What is a CPAP machine?

In addition to the lifestyle changes above, doctors traditionally reach for positive airway pressure devices to treat sleep apnea. The most well-known of these is the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.

The CPAP machine provides pressurized air that keeps the throat open continually at night. Similarly, the BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) and VPAP (variable positive airway pressure) supply air on a variable schedule (or in a different manner). The sleeper wears a snug mask over the mouth and nose and sleeps as normal when using any of these devices.

When used correctly, CPAP machines have been proven to dramatically improve a person’s quality (and quantity of sleep). Unfortunately, there’s the rub: they have to be used correctly (and reliably).

CPAP machines can have major barriers to patient compliance including:

  • Mask discomfort: No matter how often masks are adjusted, some sleepers have trouble getting comfortable with a mask over their mouth and nose
  • Noise: CPAP machines are not silent, and this could disturb the sleeper and their partner
  • Hard to travel with: For frequent travelers, even the sleekest of portable CPAP machines are cumbersome

While it’s true that CPAP machines remain the single most effective treatment for sleep apnea, that research comes with one huge caveat: you have to actually use the device for it to be effective. And that’s where CPAP alternatives come in.

Sleep apnea dental devices can solve these challenges

Sleep apnea dental devices are one of the most common and effective CPAP alternatives available. Because of their ease of use, they increase patient compliance and overall symptom management.

Sleep apnea devices do not work in the same way to keep the throat open with pressurized air. Instead, these devices resemble a sports mouth guard and work in two ways. They:

  • Position the lower jaw forward to maintain an open airway
  • Move the tongue slightly to prevent it from relaxing back and obstructing the airway

For some patients, sleep apnea mouthguards perform both actions simultaneously.

Using a sleep apnea dental device as a CPAP alternative has considerable advantages. Not only do they work to treat sleep apnea effectively, these appliances address all of the downfalls of a traditional CPAP machine, downfalls that might cause the sleeper to stop treatment.

Sleep apnea dental appliances are custom-fitted by your sleep apnea dentist which makes them comfortable and easy to wear. Because they are not motorized or automated in any way, they are quiet and allow sleepers and their partners to rest in a quiet room. Finally, they are convenient to travel with, slipping into a carrying case about the size of a wallet.

And as a bonus, sleep apnea dental devices are easy to care for and clean. Your CPAP machine must be broken down and cleaned periodically to ensure bacteria-free and effective functioning. A sleep apnea dental device can be rinsed nightly and cleaned with simple household cleaners.

How do I get fitted for a sleep apnea dental device?

Getting fitted for a custom sleep apnea dental device is a simple procedure that takes two visits. On the first visit, your dentist will conduct a thorough exam, including X-rays, and discuss the benefits of the device for your sleep apnea. They will then take a mold of your teeth or use digital tools to take precise measurements for your appliance.

There are 100 different dental appliances that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Your dentist will take the time to find the one that is best for you and then send your measurements to the lab to create it.

When your sleep apnea dental device is ready, your dentist will check for proper fit. Your dental appliance should be comfortable to wear, fitting snugly but not too tight. Your dentist can make adjustments to ensure your comfort. At this visit, you will also receive instructions on the proper use of the appliance, including care and cleaning instructions.

Following this fitting session, you are off to better rest! Your dentist will check the fit and wear annually and make adjustments and recommendations as needed.

To learn more about sleep apnea dental devices and other CPAP alternatives, give the sleep apnea dentists at AZ Sleep a call. We have convenient locations in Scottsdale and all over the Phoenix Valley. Let us help you get a good night’s sleep!

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