Sometimes the signs of sleep apnea are loud and apparent. Other times, they may be more subtle, or could be masked or overshadowed by other health issues—even though it is the apnea that is actually to blame. The only way to truly know the nature of a sleep apnea condition is with an overnight sleep study. These can be conducted at a specialized sleep lab, or through the use of home testing equipment that allows you to perform the test while sleeping in your own bed. One of the main purposes of a sleep test is to measure the number of times during the night that your breathing becomes very shallow, which is known as a hypopnea, or stops altogether, which is an apnea. These results are tallied as a per-hour average, which is known as an apnea/hypopnea index or AHI score. An AHI score of 20 would mean your breath becomes too shallow or stops an average of 20 times per hour during sleep. AHI scores of less than 15 are classified as mild, 15 to 30 is moderate, and an AHI score of 30 or higher is considered severe sleep apnea.
At Seattle Dental Sleep Therapy, we believe in the team approach to treatment. We can partner with your primary care physician and a network of sleep medicine professionals to create a treatment plan that addresses your individual needs. Our team may provide counseling on lifestyle changes which can make a significant differences in the severity of sleep apnea—things like losing weight, changing your sleep position, keeping the bedroom allergen free, and avoiding heavy meals and alcohol before bed. These changes alone may not be sufficient to eliminate all symptoms of sleep apnea, but they can often be used to increase the efficacy of other treatments.
For a number of years, the most frequently prescribed treatment for sleep apnea has been the CPAP system. This is essentially a bedside air pump that delivers pressurized air to the sleeper by way of an air tube and face mask. The higher pressure air helps keep the sleepers throat open, preventing airway collapse. CPAP can be quite effective when adjusted properly and worn each night. Unfortunately, many find the system uncomfortable or invasive, and stop using it within one to six months of initial treatment. In certain cases, surgery may be recommended for the treatment of more severe cases of sleep apnea. There are a number of surgical procedures that can be used to remove excess tissues from the throat, or to tighten soft tissues in the back of the mouth. The success rates for these procedures remains mixed, and some long-term follow up studies have shown the benefits to diminish over time. For this reason, surgery is not usually recommended as a first resort. The most viable alternative to CPAP therapy now comes from the field of dental sleep medicine. Over the past two decades, a new type of oral appliance has evolved to address the treatment of sleep apnea. These devices have proven to be effective for reducing or eliminating sleep apnea and for controlling snoring. Dr. Timmerman and the staff of Seattle Dental Sleep Therapy specialize in providing oral appliance therapy, both to newly diagnosed sleep apnea patients and those seeking an alternative to CPAP.
More information on oral appliances can be found on the this web site, and our staff is happy to answer your questions and explain the benefits this form of treatment can provide.