Obstructive Sleep Apnea: What Everyone Needs to Know

 A Q&A with Dr. Michael Bennett, DDS, Double Board Certified in Dental Sleep Medicine and Craniofacial Pain, and Director of the Vivos Breathing Wellness Center in Orem 


What is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)? 

OSA “is a sleep-related breathing disorder that involves a decrease or complete halt in airflow despite an ongoing effort to breathe. It occurs when the muscles relax during sleep, causing soft tissue in the back of the throat to collapse and block the upper airway.” For some, an under-developed jaw narrows the airway, also causing OSA.   


In severe cases, the drop in blood oxygen saturation can be as high as 40%, which can be life-threatening. The brain then responds to the oxygen deficit by causing brief arousals from sleep in order to restore normal breathing; many people with OSA have hundreds of these low-oxygen awakenings throughout the night.     


Who has OSA and what are the signs?  

It is estimated that as many as 29 million American adults suffer from this condition and up to 22 million American children also are at risk. The most obvious symptoms include snoring, gasping or choking during sleep, but it’s also been linked to several chronic health issues, including cardiovascular problems, cancer, diabetes, and dementia in adults, and serious problems including ADHD/ADD, bedwetting and lower IQ for children. Left untreated, it can even be fatal.  Diagnosing and treating OSA should be a priority for anyone who thinks it may affect them or a loved one.  


How is OSA diagnosed and treated? 

Generally, a physician diagnoses OSA through patient history and sleep studies, which provide verifying data for the diagnosis. In recent years, dentists who are certified in dental sleep medicine have joined the efforts to diagnose and treat patients who are suffering from OSA.  


Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) provides steady, pressurized air through a mask worn while sleeping. The airflow helps to maintain an open airway, preventing pauses in breathing. While the first-line treatment for OSA has been CPAP, it’s a lifetime treatment of the symptom, and few want to wear it every night like they should to make a real difference. Many people find it intrusive, and compliance studies show that anywhere from 29% to 83% of patients aren’t compliant with their CPAP therapy.  


Other treatment options include a multitude of oral devices that look like sports mouth guards and help to maintain an open airway by stabilizing the jaw in a forward position. These mandibular repositioning devices are customized and fitted by dentists who are trained in sleep medicine. Like CPAP therapy, oral devices only treat the sleep apnea symptoms, and patients are required to use their device every night for the rest of their lives.  


Is there a cure?  

Up until now, the most common treatments such as CPAP and mandibular repositioning devices have only been able to treat the symptoms.  What’s growing in popularity is a breakthrough technology that may be the first viable long-term solution because it actually addresses a major root cause of the condition. At my practice, we’ve seen excellent results in both adults and children as the Vivos System technology gently enhances the patient’s airway over about 18 months to restore healthy sleep and breathing that lasts.  


What to do?  

If you’re concerned at all that you or a family member might have OSA, don’t wait. Talk to your doctor and ask for a sleep study. These can be conducted in a lab or at home, which is easy, affordable and accurate. Both are also painless, safe and covered by most insurance plans. Getting diagnosed and treated as soon as possible, with the latest technology, can drastically improve your health. 

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Written by Dr. C. Michael Bennett, DDS

Dr. C. Michael Bennett is Double Board Certified in Dental Sleep Medicine and Craniofacial Pain and Director of Vivos Breathing Wellness Center in Orem.