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How do Dentists Treat Sleep Apnea?

If you have sleep apnea, you are not alone – nearly 25 million adults in the United States have sleep apnea, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The statistics are eye-opening, to say the least!

Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breathing pauses dozens of times each night – these pauses can happen from 5 to 100 times each hour. Your breathing may stop for 10 to 20 seconds before the lack of oxygen jolts you awake for a moment. You are awake for such a short time that you may not remember waking up, but the constant disruptions to your sleep cycle that you may not fall asleep deeply enough to get the restorative sleep you need to be awake and productive the next day. 

Sleep apnea can present dangerous health risks. Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, forgetfulness, and an increased risk for mistakes, accidents, and errors at work, while driving, and during other activities. Lack of sleep can trigger moodiness, irritability, anxiety, and depression. It can also increase your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, irregular heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation, and stroke.

Doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals have noticed the growing problem of sleep apnea, and are collaborating to diagnose and treat sleep apnea. More treatment options are available now than ever before, which means more people can successfully overcome sleep apnea and reduce their risk for complications associated with the condition. One of those treatments is dental sleep medicine

What is Dental Sleep Medicine?

Dental sleep medicine is a type of dentistry practice that focuses on treating loud snoring and sleep apnea. Dentists trained in dental sleep medicine work with doctors to develop personalized treatment plans to address each patient’s sleep disorder. The dentist’s usual role is to manage sleep apnea with oral appliance therapy. 

Oral appliance therapy uses oral appliances, or devices that you wear in your mouth while you sleep. These oral appliances work by pushing or pulling your lower jaw forward, which prevents your tongue from blocking your airway. Depending on your particular needs, your dentist may recommend one of two dental appliances: mandibular advancement devices and tongue-retaining mouthpieces. These therapies may be used alone or along with CPAP therapy. 

Mandibular advancement devices 

Resembling athletic mouth guards, mandibular advancement devices (MADs) fit over your upper and lower teeth, with a hinge connecting the two trays in the center. MADs hold your lower jaw and tongue in a slightly-forward position to prevent the soft tissues in your mouth and throat from blocking your airway while you sleep. Your dentist can adjust the position and fit of your MAD to increase effectiveness and comfort. 

Tongue-retaining mouthpieces

Tongue-retaining mouthpieces keep your tongue from falling back into your airway while you sleep. The device fits around your tongue and uses a light suction to hold it in place. People with minimal jaw flexibility often find these devices helpful. 

How to Get Sleep Apnea Treatment from Your Dentist

See your doctor

First, tell your doctor about any symptoms of sleep apnea you may have. Your doctor will likely order a sleep study at a sleep clinic or at home to confirm a diagnosis of sleep apnea. 


Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is usually the first line of treatment for most people with sleep apnea. The CPAP machine delivers and continuous stream of pressurized air that keeps your airway open throughout the night. 

CPAP is best for those with moderate to severe sleep apnea. Oral devices can help with mild sleep apnea. Many patients – with mild, moderate or severe sleep apnea – benefit from using a CPAP machine along with the MAD or tongue retaining mouthpiece. 

Get fitted with an oral device

The doctor overseeing your treatment plan for sleep apnea may recommend an oral device, provided by dentists who specialize in sleep medicine. Your doctor will continue to follow up with your care, and help adjust the treatment plan as needed. 

Doctors and dentists never recommend over-the-counter devices for the treatment of sleep apnea, as these products usually address snoring but do not prevent sleep apnea. A sleep apnea mouth guard provided by your dentist is the only way to ensure that you are getting the sleep apnea treatment you need. 

The Role of Dentists in Treating Sleep Apnea

Dentists play a key role in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep-related breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea. Your dentist will review your medical history and ask about your symptoms. If your dentist suspects sleep apnea, they will provide a referral to a medical doctor. Following the physical evaluation, diagnosis, and sleep test, your dentist can help you and your doctor determine if an oral device would be an effective treatment solution. Your dentist will stay in communication with your doctor to track your progress and ensure the best treatment outcome possible. 

Find the best treatment options for sleep apnea

To wake up refreshed and rested tomorrow, make an appointment with a sleep medicine dentist today. The trained sleep medicine specialists at Preston Dental Loft are here to help you with your sleep apnea treatment! Contact Preston Dental Loft today.

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