When dentist Dr. Michael Uzelac opted to explore the relatively new field of dental sleep medicine several years ago, his first stop was to look in the mirror.
“I was my first patient,” he said.
Uzelac, who had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), had an oral appliance made to help reduce his disrupted breathing during sleep due to snoring. It worked.
“I slept soundly for three nights in a row, and I felt wonderful,” he said.
Dental sleep medicine is a rapidly developing specialty that is showing promising results for those with OSA and excessive snoring. Uzelac, who has more than 37 years of experience in general dentistry, expects to become board certified by the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM) this summer. A search on the AADSM’s website reveals he is the only AADSM qualified dentist in Porter County.
“The most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea right now is the CPAP machine,” Uzelac said. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) involves wearing a mask or nasal cannula connected to a machine that delivers pressured air during sleep.
“The problem is, about 58% of people who are prescribed a CPAP machine don’t wear it,” Uzelac said. Some perceive the devices to be bulky, cumbersome, and uncomfortable.
Dental sleep medicine approaches OSA differently, with custom-fitted oral appliances.
“With obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles in the throat relax and block breathing. Oral appliance therapy works like putting a door stop in a door,” Uzelac said. “The appliances help pull the jaw forward so the muscles can’t relax and block breathing.”
More than 100 oral appliances are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of OSA. They look like retainers or mouth guards, and simply fit over the upper and lower teeth.
Uzelac said those who tend to respond best to oral appliance therapy are those with less severe apnea, women ages 30 or older who are physically fit, and individuals who have a neck size of less than 17 inches. He stressed that addressing whole health is important in successful treatment of OSA.
Patients who suffer from OSA and excessive snoring many times are overweight and have other contributing factors like uncontrolled blood sugar (diabetes), and poor sleep habits at night (such as watching TV in bed). It’s just as important to address overall health as it is the snoring itself, he said.
The severity of apnea is typically measured by the Apnea-Hypopnea Index (AHI), which gauges the number of breathing disruption and blood oxygen drops per hour during sleep. The higher the number, the worse your OSA.
Apnea, he said, gets worse with age and weight gain, and more than 30 million cases of sleep apnea are undiagnosed in the U.S.
“If you lose 10% of your body weight, you will reduce your AHI by 26%. If you lose 20% of your body weight, you’ll reduce your AHI by 32%. There is a direct relationship between overall physical health and apnea, but the fact is, if apnea goes untreated, it can be the basis of multiple life-threatening diseases,” Uzelac said.
If you have been diagnosed with OSA, Uzelac and his team at Sleep Airway Solutions can discuss the possible benefits of oral appliance therapy. During your first visit, Uzelac will conduct a complete exam of the teeth, jaw, tongue, and airway, and may take X-rays of your mouth.
Oral appliances are custom-made in a lab using impressions and models of your teeth. Once the appliance is ready, you will return to Sleep Airway Solutions for a fitting, and you will learn how to care for the appliance and keep it clean and in working condition. Follow-up visits will be needed to adjust the device for a perfect fit.
For more information, visit https://www.sleepairwaysolutions.com/ or call 219-286-6461.