Snoring is the first indication of a problem, and the most severe Sleep Disordered Breathing problems—the frequent, complete collapse that occurs in the airways of those suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea—can be fatal.

There are serious health concerns associated with Sleep Disordered Breathing. I think it is important to first give you, the readers, an in-depth description of the way dentists and physicians can team up to manage a patient’s Sleep Disordered Breathing problem: a new field called Sleep Disorders Dentistry.

Sleep Disorders Dentistry involves the identification of a Sleep Disordered Breathing problem via non-invasive airway assessment, and then the management of the problem with oral appliance therapy.

A handful of dentists across the country have teamed up with physicians and other specialists, cooperating in what we feel to be an important relationship to identify and manage Sleep Disordered Breathing. We screen for the problems using simple questionnaires, health histories, weight, body mass index (BMI) calculations, and neck circumference measurements. Patients are then referred to my office to have their airways assessed and oral appliances fabricated.

Airway assessment will be discussed in a later column. Oral Appliance Therapy, is completely non-surgical, non-pharmacological (doesn’t use medication), and painless.

Oral appliances look like athletic mouth guards, but are much less bulky and sit comfortably in the mouth. They are often fabricated out of plastic.

There are many different types of oral appliances. Over 75 have been certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)such as the Respire Blue Series, as effective tools to treat Sleep Disordered Breathing. Some hold the tongue in place so it doesn’t fall back against the throat as the patient relaxes and falls asleep. Others hold the mandible (jaw) in a certain position so as to retain the greatest degree of airway patency (muscle tone), allowing as much oxygen as possible to flow into the lungs. Still others can be attached to a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.

A dentist treating Sleep Disordered Breathing will fit you for the oral appliance and then send the molds off to a dental laboratory in order to build the appliance to the exact specifications of your mouth and teeth.

While some patients report excess saliva or jaw pain for the first few nights wearing the appliance, this discomfort usually subsides. Patients with dentures, missing teeth, and extensive orthodontic work are all candidates for oral appliances, as are those with a full mouth of healthy teeth.

Oral Appliance Therapy is a scientifically-validated treatment method heavily supported by the medical academies whose members focus on Sleep Disordered Breathing. If you think you may be suffering from Sleep Disordered Breathing, I suggest you consider it as an option for treatment.