Sleep apnea biteguards
Sleep apnea is a condition that causes pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses – like holding your breath – last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Sleep apnea is caused by the tongue or throat collapsing to block the airway (as shown by the white circle in the graphic on the left). These apnea events can happen through the night from 5 to 30 times every hour.
If I start breathing again, why is this a problem?
Untreated sleep apnea has some serious negative health consequences. The most serious is heart disease that can lead to heart attacks and death. During apnea – think of what happens when you hold your breath – carbon dioxide levels are rising and oxygen levels are dropping. Blood pressure in the lungs is rising. When the apnea episode is over and you start breathing again the heart races to push through the blood pressure in the lungs, decrease carbon dioxide, and increase oxygen. Overworking the heart like this night after night leads to congestive heart failure and increases the risk of a heart attack. A racing heart and regaining oxygen are stimulating enough that the deeper levels of the proper sleep cycle are never reached. This causes non-restful sleep and all the negative effects of poor sleep (fatigue, narcolepsy, psychological stress, poor metabolism, weight gain, etc.). Loud snoring is common in people with sleep apnea.
Treatment options for sleep apnea include a dental biteguard, a positive-pressure air flow mask (CPAP), and surgery of the soft palate. A special dental biteguard is designed to open the airway while you sleep. The only way the teeth will fit into the biteguard is with the chin slightly jutting forward. With the chin in this position the soft tissues of the tongue and throat are pulled forward, causing the airway to open and improving airflow, as shown in the lower half of the graphic above. Depending on the severity of the sleep apnea, this biteguard can be the only treatment, or it can be used in combination with a CPAP device or surgery. Because a biteguard is minimally invasive, we recommend patients try it before committing to surgery. Most of our patients are satisfied and comfortable using a biteguard. Rarely we see patients who cannot tolerate them. A sleep apnea biteguard will also protect the teeth from grinding or clenching.
Patients who are candidates are those who have their own natural teeth or a well-fitting upper denture and their own natural teeth on the lower jaw. Patients are not candidates if they have a full lower denture or are missing all of their upper teeth without an upper denture. It takes a minimum of two appointments to make and fit the sleep apnea biteguard.
Proper breathing will provide a better night’s sleep and help keep the heart relaxed and healthy for a lifetime.