Sleep apnea is a serious, sometimes fatal medical disorder that affects around 10% of American men over the age of 40, and 6% of American women of the same age. Sleep apnea sufferers completely stop breathing during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times in a single night. Normal breathing ceases because the airway becomes obstructed, causing a serious reduction of airflow to the lungs. A medical doctor makes the definitive diagnosis for sleep apnea, but Dr. Atkins can recognize the signs of sleep apnea from the wearing of your teeth surfaces, and by asking you and your sleeping partner questions about your sleep habits.
A number of dental devices can alleviate this condition. The goal of most of these devices is to separate the jaws and push the lower jaw forward slightly. This slight repositioning opens up the airway, and allows oxygen to flow freely again. Wearers of sleep apnea dental devices report that they stop loud snoring, feel more rested in the daytime, and are much more comfortable going to sleep. Sleep apnea appliances work best on patients who are not significantly overweight, but there is no guarantee that any appliance may work for any given patient. Sleep Apnea appliances offer a viable alternative to Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) in some, but not all cases.
Sleep apnea appliances fall into two categories: fixed and adjustable. Here are brief descriptions of some commonly used sleep apnea dental appliances, some of which Dr. Atkins uses.
TAP® 3 (Thornton Adjustable Positioner)
The TAP® 3 is the smallest, most comfortable member of the TAP family. A two-part custom-created sleep apnea appliance fits over the teeth in much the same way as a sports mouth guard. The TAP® 3 projects the jaw forward to prevent the tongue and soft tissues from impeding the airway. The lower jaw positioner is adjustable, which means that it can be altered to suit the comfort level of the wearer. The TAP® 3 appliance can accommodate the three main types of malocclusion, and allows the lips to fully close. The Tap 3 comes in different configurations
The OASYS appliance is designed to move the base of the tongue toward the front of the mouth by gently repositioning the jawbone (mandible). This shift opens the oropharynx and strengthens the upper airway. An extension of the upper shield projects toward the nose, creating a larger nasal opening and less resistance to normal airflow. This adjustable appliance is comfortable to wear and extremely patient friendly.
The KlearwayTM Appliance is generally used to alleviate the obstructive sleep disorder and eliminate snoring. Both the patient and Dr. Atkins can project the jaw forward in increments of .25mm at a time. This ensures maximum comfort for the sleeper. The KlearwayTM appliance is made from VariflexTM heat softening acrylic, which makes it easier to insert. Running warm water over the appliance makes it pliable, but once placed in the desired position, the acrylic hardens again.
Herbst Telescopic Appliance
The Herbst appliance is held in the mouth by clasps and friction grips. It is made of acrylic, and contains adjustable metal wiring. The advantage of this appliance is that the wearer is able to move the jaw vertically and laterally without dislodging the appliance. The Herbst appliance is usually used in mild and moderate cases of sleep apnea, and can alleviate loud snoring effectively.
There are many more brands, configurations, and materials for sleep appliances than those shown here, with more being added all the time! If you have questions or concerns about sleep apnea appliances, please ask Dr. Atkins.