The Alternative

Some forms of sleep apnea may respond better to treatment with an oral appliance, according to new research published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Sleep apnea occurs when the flow of air into the lungs is obstructed. This obstruction is typically caused by the soft tissues of the throat collapsing into the airway or the tongue falling back to block the throat.

Between 18 and 29 million Americans are thought to be living with the condition.

The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine.

‘This device works to blow the airway open by streaming air through a mask that covers the mouth and nose,’ said Dr. Clara Griffey of Legends Dental in Waco, Texas.

But, many individuals living with sleep apnea don’t like using the CPAP machine.

‘Some individuals report that the mask is uncomfortable and makes them feel claustrophobic, and the machine itself is very loud,’ Griffey said.

So, is the alternative going without treatment?

‘No, there’s an alternative treatment for CPAP, and that is through an oral appliance. This appliance works by moving the jaw into a more forward position to help prevent the tongue from falling back into the airway,’ Griffey said.

The study revealed several factors as to oral appliance treatment for sleep apnea for those living with more mild forms of the condition.

During their research, the study authors used polysomnography testing to diagnose the condition and then gathered data from 93 adults who were diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea.

They reviewed two particular traits in the participants related to their upper airway: muscle compensation and collapsibility. What they found was that participants with severe throat muscle collapsibility benefited more often from using oral appliances than those without this trait.

Individuals with a weaker reflex response of their throat muscles (lower muscle compensation) also responded better to appliance therapy than those with a stronger reflex response.

Based on these two traits and other findings, oral appliances were predicted to be more effective than the CPAP machine in treating 61 percent of the participants.

Out of this 61 percent, patients in the group had a 73 percent reduction in the Apnea-Hypopnea Index (AHI), or the number of breathing interruptions lasting 10 seconds or longer per hour. The average number of breathing interruptions with the oral appliance was eight per hour.

‘Appliance therapy is an excellent alternative for those who have mild to moderate conditions,’ Griffey said.

Source: American Thoracic Society. ‘Oral appliances may be highly effective in treating a type of sleep apnea.’ ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 August 2019.