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Author: Dr. Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS

The most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. However, for some patients the CPAP machine or mask might be uncomfortable, or it just might not work. When that is the case, it is important for dental sleep medicine specialists to offer another solution: oral appliance therapy.

With the availability of oral appliance therapy, patients can get the treatment they need without the uncomfortable mask of the CPAP machine. Here is what you need to share with your patients about oral appliance therapy for the treatment of sleep apnea.

CPAP isn’t always the best option. This is probably the main reason why patients will visit your dental office. While the CPAP machine is beneficial for a variety of reasons, it still might not be the best solution for everyone. Most people feel that compared to CPAP, an oral appliance is very comfortable and easy to use. There are even social reasons that make oral appliances very appealing. However, before treatment can begin, it is important to help your patients understand who a candidate for oral appliance therapy is and who is not.

Increased mobility. Oral appliance therapy is extremely convenient and comfortable. I mean, who really wants to try to bring their CPAP machine with them on the road? No one—and we understand that. Oral appliances come in handy when it comes to the need for mobility. Overall, these devices tend to be more economical and are generally a lot easier to tolerate and use. Still, there is no one-size-fits-all scenario and oral appliances work well by themselves in combination with other therapies.

There Might Be Side Effects

Whether an oral appliance is being used for the treatment of TMD or sleep apnea, it is important to explain to patients that there can be side effects associated with treatment. Just because oral appliance therapy has some side effects does not mean patients should avoid treatment or stop completely. Instead, make sure they are educated on what to expect.

It helps so you can continue treatment and overcome the short-term side effects often associated with treatment. Everyone will react to treatment in a different way, so it does not always mean your patients will experience any of these side effects. Some of the side effects include:

  • Excessive salivation.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Tooth and jaw discomfort.
  • Temporary bite changes.

Additionally, some people do run the risk of developing further complications with oral appliance therapy. When this occurs, it is important to readjust and alter your patient’s treatment. Some patients might experience:

  • Jaw pain.
  • Permanent changes to their bite.
  • TMD symptoms.

These complications are often recognized and managed by dentists trained in dental sleep medicine and should not be ignored.

Treatment is Important

As soon as a patient receives a sleep apnea diagnosis from their physician, they can find out if they are a good candidate for an oral appliance. The best odds of success are for those who have mild to moderate sleep apnea—the patient’s sleep doctor can help them better understand what type of sleep apnea they have. Make sure that when the patient is referred to a sleep study that they ask questions to better educate themselves on all available options for treatment. Fortunately, though, there is very little downside to a properly fitted and adjusted oral appliance.

Contact Us

For more information on oral appliances and other Dental Sleep Medicine CE courses, contact Nierman Practice Management or check out the upcoming Dental Sleep Medicine CE seminar schedule to sign up for a course.