Sleep-related breathing disorders have become a critical concern for many people, yet this condition is also missed in most regular physical exams. We have all heard of the trucker that has fallen asleep at the wheel, but sleeping disorders are a problem not just for employers. Anyone can be affected by this condition. Not only are people less productive and falling asleep at critical times; medical studies have confirmed that serious medical conditions are likely caused by sleeping problems and the inability to breathe freely during sleep. For all these reasons, Dr. Larsen may be your best resource to help you address this condition.

While there can be a great many causes for sleep related breathing disorders, the most common is caused by a restriction or obstruction of the airway at the back of the throat. This condition is generally termed “Obstructive Sleep Apnea” or OSA. A less-severe form of obstruction is simple Snoring, but it is now thought that Snoring is a pre-cursor to the onset of OSA. In all cases, these medical conditions can have a range of impact; from mild, to moderate, to severe. As a dentist, Dr. Larsen is concerned with your overall health as it relates to your mouth. Please ask us to review your concerns about sleep related breathing disorders.

Sleep apnea patients dissatisfied with their current CPAP treatment are looking for alternatives to solve their sleep and snoring problems. Many can now turn to a dental solution in hopes of finding a less invasive and more comfortable form of treatment. We address the problems of a closed airway during sleep by making custom dental appliances that reposition the lower jaw and tongue in order to keep the airway open. Dental Appliance Therapy has been confirmed to be effective for relief for mild to moderate Apnea and most forms of snoring.

First, what is Apnea? Simply stated, it is when we stop breathing. The vast majority of people suffering Apnea are experiencing an anatomical or external factor causing a temporary blockage or obstruction of their airway. This obstruction can be your throat collapsing, your tongue blocking the airway, or even a sinus blockage. This is often called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and may last only a couple of seconds, but many people will be surprised to find that they may stop breathing for nearly a minute or more! Unconsciously your body is fighting to breath, as though you’re suffocating. Eventually, the natural process in our bodies will force us to awaken when our O2 level drops and CO2 levels become extreme. You may wake gasping for breath. Surprisingly many people are completely unaware they stop breathing or suffer from OSA.

Breathing problems people experience during sleep are been called one of the most damaging, but least diagnosed conditions in modern medicine. We spend nearly 1/3 of our lives sleeping, but more than 20% of people are not getting effective rest and in many cases are having severe medical conditions because of OSA. A common condition is cardiac stress where the heart rate can exceed 200 beats/minute before you are awakened. OSA is also clearly linked to high blood pressure, stroke, arrhythmia, and heart failure. New research is also attributing increased incidence of memory problems and Alzheimer disease; possible because there is insufficient “cleansing” of the brain when sleep is interrupted.

Left untreated, the incidence of heart attacks is 30% higher in OSA patients. Of course, we have all heard of couples where snoring has caused significant stress to one’s bed partner.

Most people have heard of a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine. It is usually a small device about the size of a toaster that runs a fan-like air pump. This pump is connected to a flexible hose similar to a very small vacuum cleaner; blowing a pressurized airflow in your nose or throat via a mask appliance worn during the night. Although somewhat cumbersome, this device is extremely effective in resolving severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Unfortunately, many people will discontinue use of the device due to a variety of problems; most often related to discomfort of the mask, the hose and the constant air flow.

Dental Sleep Appliances

For persons with mild to moderate forms of Apnea, there is a great alternative in the form of a Dental Sleep Appliance. This appliance resembles a sporting “mouth guard” that fits around the upper and lower teeth, while positioning the lower jaw slightly forward to keep the airway open. This same device is also very effective in reducing or even eliminating the incidence of snoring.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a medical condition that can only be diagnosed by a trained medical doctor, most often a specialist in Sleep Medicine. If you have already been diagnosed with OSA but cannot reliably use your CPAP machine, your next step is to consult with your physician for a referral to a dentist qualified to make a Dental Sleep Appliance. Please contact us if we can assist you in this process.

An at-home sleep test will help determine your sleep pattern

If you have not yet been diagnosed by a qualified physician, you may have two basic alternatives: the Overnight Sleep Study performed at a special facility or an At-Home Sleep Test. We can refer you to local specialists that can perform an overnight Sleep Study or arrange for you to receive an At-Home Sleep Test.

Many people are opting for the At-Home Sleep Test because it is so convenient. With advances in miniaturized electronics, a device the size of a paperback novel is attached to sensors measuring your heart rate, blood oxygen level, respiratory effort, breathing rate and air flow throughout the night. After 1-3 nights of monitoring, the device is returned to the sleep physician that interprets the results to diagnose your condition.

For less severe OSA patients that cannot tolerate the CPAP solution, the ideal solution may be a custom fitted dental appliance. Because this device repositions the lower jaw, the selection and customization of the appliance is best done by an experienced dentist specifically trained in Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Most medical insurance companies pay for Sleep Studies, CPAP machines and/or a custom fitted oral appliance. Our treatment for a Dental Sleep Appliance is typically billed under your medical insurance as opposed to your dental benefit plan. We can help you determine if your medical policy includes benefits for custom-fitted oral appliance therapy. We are a qualified Medicare supplier and can bill Medicare for your dental device.