Customized oral appliances are quite effective for sleep apnea. Learn more about the success stories of many of our patients.
Could you start by explaining what sleep apnea is and how it affects a person?
Dr. Anthony Bielkie: Sleep apnea is a problem that during sleep somebody stops breathing completely and frequently people will consider it being very loud snoring. So if you hear that noise of them gasping for air, that’s considered the condition that we now call sleep apnea.
Can a device worn in the mouth really help someone with sleep apnea?
Anthony Bielkie: Absolutely. We’ve had a number of patients that it has really changed their energy level for the entire day. For somebody who is diagnosed with sleep apnea, you’ll need to have a sleep study. There are certain hospitals and clinics that do that. There’s also now becoming such a problem finding facilities that many can now do it at home and have a home monitor but everybody’s little non-sophisticated Fit Bit can tell them how many times they woke up in the middle of the night and that’s a baseline. Once you’re determined to have the sleep apnea, the gold standard for treatment would be a C-PAP machine which is pressurized air. Once the sleep study is done, if you’re considered to have sleep apnea, generally that’s the first choice, would be to have a C-PAP machine. However, if you have a lesser grade, if you don’t have sleep apnea but you just snore or if you’ve tried the C-PAP machine and it just doesn’t work for you, an oral device can really make a change in the way you’re able to sleep and your energy level and in many cases, change your life.
What factors do you have to consider when customizing these oral devices for your patients?
Dr. Anthony Bielkie: We need to do a complete oral exam, determining how large the oral airway is. We also need to determine what the patient can tolerate. Some patients that are heavy clenchers or bruxers or have problems with their jaw are going to have some troubles tolerating certain appliances. We’ve had some patients who have very strong bites that can chew through the less expensive, softer appliance and we have many, many different apparatus now to help control the sleep apnea for our patients.
Does it take a long time to get used to wearing the device to sleep? What can someone expect?
Dr. Anthony Bielkie: We generally recommend people try wearing it a little bit prior to bedtime – after dinner, brush your teeth, while you’re reading a book, watching TV, get used to having it in your mouth a little bit. We can titrate it to get it to work, so basically, the appliance will take the lower jaw and advance it forward. Our goal is to start at a minimal protrusion, and then we’ll see if it’s helping with the airway. We can slowly titrate it out to see if we can’t find a place where the patient can be comfortable and it’s still doing what we’re trying to get it to accomplish. Once we get the appliance titrated to where we want, we frequently recommend a sleep study to make sure that we’ve fixed the problem that we’ve been trying to fix.
Is it possible to cure sleep apnea by using a device or is this a permanent condition?
Dr. Anthony Bielkie: Well, there are some things that you can do to help yourself with sleep apnea. In some cases, we definitely find a correlation between age and the older we get, the more the muscles relax in the back of the throat. Alcohol tends to also relax that area and contribute to sleep apnea. Weight is also an issue. But there are young, fit, healthy, non-drinking individuals that have problems with sleep apnea. At this point, we don’t really have a cure. It’s sort of more like diabetes where we know you now have the condition and we need to treat it. There are some things you can do to help but for the most part, we’re going to try to manage your symptoms and try to get you as healthy as you can. Because there have been many studies that have shown people that have sleep apnea have many other, more significant heart issues – stroke, heart issues. So it isn’t just snoring. It is about your overall health.
If you’re interested in speaking with Dr. Anthony Bielkie, visit www.stoneridgedental.com or call at 586-739-6400 to schedule an appointment.