While continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) tends to be the golden standard in sleep apnea treatment, some may find it to be intolerable and so a CPAP alternative must be utilized. Dental devices are among the the most common alternatives to CPAP. Dental devices can be used in conjunction with CPAP or as a stand-alone treatment. The most popular dental devices are able to maintain the opening of the airway by pushing the lower jaw slightly open in an apparatus referred to as a mandibular advancement device (MAD). There are also other dental devices that work by pushing the tongue out of the way through a device called a tongue retraining device (TRD). Both these devices come in a variety of forms, which can be adapted for different patients.
Dental devices are not for the most severe sleep apnea patients and are commonly prescribed to those with milder forms. These devices are typically not effective on obese patients. Oral devices must be fitted by a dentist or orthodontist. These devices are removable and only need to be worn during sleep. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there is a noticeable decrease in sleep apnea, a decrease in snoring and, overall, less complaints than those utilizing CPAP when these dental devices are properly used. Further treatment with these oral devices has shown better long-term results than other alternative treatments, such as surgery.
However no treatment is side-effect free. Possible side-effects include dry mouth, chapped lips, possible mouth pain, and excessive drooling. Other risks associated with this include the possible movement of teeth and therefore a dentist should check both the wearer’s teeth and the dental device regularly.
As mentioned above there are many other CPAP alternatives that include both invasive and noninvasive treatments. Besides CPAP there are other ventilator systems including bi- level positive airway machines, which change the pressure in the lungs while a patient sleeps. Other ventilation techniques include adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV), which examines a patient’s breathing patterns and then corrects any variations that occur during sleep. Another treatment that is highly successful among those who suffer from sleep apnea is drug therapy, such as utilizing nasal sprays and inhalers.
Lifestyle changes can also provide relief for sleep apnea. These techniques include weight loss—obesity is a major contributor to sleep apnea, decreased intake of sedatives such as alcohol and painkillers, and quitting smoking. Surgery is a popular option when other treatments fail to provide relief. Surgery techniques differ between adults and children. Traditionally, children are treated with the removal of tonsils while the removal of palate tissue is standard for adults.
Of course, the best treatment for sleep apnea is going to be determined by consulting with a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders.