Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or instances of abnormally low breathing, during sleep. Each pause in breathing can last from a few seconds to minutes, and may occur 5 to 30 times or more an hour. Sleep apnea is diagnosed with an overnight sleep test called a polysomnogram, or “sleep study”.
General dentists, with the prescription from a physician, can fabricate an oral appliance to help treat sleep apnea. The prescription is needed, because sleep apnea is a medical condition, and dentists are not allowed to treat medical conditions. The oral appliance is a custom-made mouthpiece that shifts the lower jaw forward and opens the bite slightly; opening up the airway. Oral appliance therapy is usually successful in patients with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. Oral appliance therapy is a relatively new treatment option for sleep apnea. Oral appliances used to treat sleep apnea are also effective for people who snore, as opening the passageways allows regular breathing for someone who would typically snore.