Obstructive Sleep Apnea Can Increase Pregnancy Complications, Dental Orthotics Can Help

Obstructive sleep apnea has been linked to complications in pregnancy, according to a new study by researchers at Brown University.

The study of more than 1.5 million pregnancies found that pregnant women with OSA often experienced complications, had a 174 percent greater risk of being admitted into intensive care, and on average spent more time in the hospital than women without the condition.

During the study, the Brown researchers reviewed the medical records of 1,577,636 pregnant women who had been entered into the United States National Perinatal Information Center Database between 2010 and 2014.

Of this group, .12 percent had been officially diagnosed with OSA. These patients also frequently had serious health complications like high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Researchers also found that pregnant women with OSA also had a 126 percent greater risk of hysterectomy and a 263 percent greater chance of developing congestive heart failure.

The Seriousness of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Beyond Pregnancy

"Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic health condition that poses a risk for all individuals, pregnant or not," said Dr. Steven P. Rogers, D.M.D., P.C.

Rogers is a Grant’s Pass, Oregon, dentist who uses dental orthotic therapy to treat patients with OSA.

More than 22 million Americans have OSA, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. The ASAA estimates that 80 percent of this number is undiagnosed.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs as a result of an airway blockage. This blockage can occur if the muscles of the throat become so relaxed during sleep they collapse and block the airway. Blockage can also occur as a result of swollen tonsils, adenoids or uvula. Another cause of OSA relates to oral health, and specifically to the position of the jaw and tongue.

"If the jaw is out of its normal position and set too far back, the tongue is also set too far back," Rogers said.

When the tongue is set too far back, it can fall back and block the airway. When the airway becomes blocked, the patient awakens gasping for air.

Patients with OSA experience sleep interruption between 30 and 100 times a night.

As a result of their condition, patients with OSA often experience extreme fatigue, headaches, migraines, depression and mood swings. More serious health complications, like heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and obesity, have been linked to OSA.

Dental Orthotic Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The most common treatment for OSA is the continuous positive airway pressure machine, often referred to as a CPAP. The CPAP machine consists of a mask that is either worn over the face or over the nose. Through the mask, the patient receives a pressurized airflow. This airflow forces the muscles of the throat open or the tongue away from the throat to keep the airway open. 

"Many individuals with OSA complain about the CPAP machine because it can be loud and claustrophobic," Rogers said.

Instead of getting a good night’s sleep, the noise and bulk of the machine often keep OSA sufferers awake. Patients remain fatigued and still facing risks related to their condition.

Surgery is another treatment option for patients with OSA. Procedures may include the removal of the tonsils, adenoids or uvula, or all three. As with any surgery, patients face the risk of complications like infection and long recovery times.

Dental orthotic therapy is an alternative to the CPAP machine and surgery. Patients who choose dental orthotics are given a customized dental orthotic appliance that is designed to move the jaw back to its normal forward position. When the jaw is moved forward, the tongue is moved forward and cannot fall back to block the airway.

The appliance is acrylic and worn like a mouthguard.

"Patients like the orthotic. Not only is it silent and much smaller than the CPAP machine, but it also allows them to get a full night’s rest," Rogers said.

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