For those who snore and are at risk for sleep apnea, the dentist may be able to help.

That’s because oral appliances are recommended for those with mild to moderate sleep apnea. The Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine recently endorsed new guidelines for this treatment option, as published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

An oral appliance can look like a sports mouth guard or orthodontic retainer. Worn during sleep, it keeps the airway open and unobstructed by repositioning or stabilizing the lower jaw, tongue, soft palate or uvula.

According to the guidelines, the severity of the problem should first be assessed by a sleep clinician who can then decide if a dental referral is needed.

The exact cause of obstructive sleep apnea remains unclear. People with the condition may stop breathing hundreds of times during sleep, often for up to a minute at a time. Estimates are that 18 million people in the U.S. are affected.

The new guidelines affirm that continuous positive airway pressure therapy, or CPAP, should be considered as the first treatment option for sleep apnea, but for the first time state that oral appliances may be offered initially to people who prefer it to CPAP or who are intolerant to CPAP therapy.

Research also suggests that oral appliances may be more effective than soft palate surgery. “For many people with obstructive sleep apnea, an oral appliance is the best and most convenient treatment available,” said Dr. Kent E. Moore, president of the ADSM.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved 40 different types of oral appliances, currently available on the market. Patients are advised to schedule follow-up appointments with their dentist for evaluation and monitoring.

The field of dental sleep medicine is experiencing rapid growth. Statistics show a growing need to address sleep apnea problems and the best methods of treatment. Half of sleep apnea patients may have high blood pressure, and risk for heart attack and stroke may also increase.

While occasional snoring is almost universal, nearly 60 percent of Americans suffer from daytime sleepiness as a side effect of sleep apnea, according to the ADSM. And each year, sleep disorders add nearly $18 billion to the national health care bill.



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