Research Reveals That Increased Education About Sleep Apnea Leads To Better Outcomes

08/08/2016 02:58 pm ET Updated Aug 09, 2017

Sleep-disordered breathing is a problem that should not be taken lightly. In addition to leaving you feeling groggy during the day, untreated sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea can lead to several other health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and heart disease. Effective treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy and oral appliance therapy are available to treat obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
Obstructive sleep apnea is caused when the tongue and soft palate collapse onto the back of the throat during sleep, blocking the upper airway. The traditional treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is CPAP therapy, which consists of wearing a mask hooked up to a constantly-running machine that provides air to patients while they sleep, helping to keep the airway open. Patients can find the treatment to be uncomfortable and cumbersome, and up to 50 percent of patients do not continue to use CPAP treatment long-term.

An alternative to this treatment is oral appliance therapy. Custom-fit by a dentist knowledgeable in dental sleep medicine, this treatment -- which uses a mouth-guard like device to hold the jaw forward and keep the airway open -- is easy to use and quieter than CPAP.

Getting in the Head of a Snorer
Researchers are finding that a major obstacle to treating sleep apnea actually lies in the mind -- and not the bed -- of the patient. In a new study presented in June at the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine's (AADSM) 25th Anniversary Meeting, researchers discovered that a key to helping patients adhere to their sleep apnea treatment plan could lie in convincing the patient of the real and long-term effects of the disease if left untreated.

The study from Columbia University asked 80 people if they adhere to their oral appliance therapy. Fifty-eight patients responded that they are adherent to treatment, and 22 responded that they no longer use their oral appliance. Of these 22 respondents, 10 were not using any treatment at all. Respondents in both groups were also asked to rank on a scale of 0-10 their level of knowledge about the consequences of untreated obstructive sleep apnea and their level of concern about these consequences.

While there was no large difference between the two groups' knowledge about obstructive sleep apnea, there was a major difference in the reported concern about the consequences of untreated sleep apnea. The respondents in the group that were not using oral appliance therapy reported a lower level of concern than those in the adherent group. The lack of concern was even greater in the 10 respondents who were not using any treatment at all.

This revealing study shines a light on the importance of education about sleep apnea. We now know that one reason why obstructive sleep apnea patients do not keep up with their treatment is that they could be either unaware of or unconcerned about the related consequences that sleep apnea can have on their health. Placing an emphasis on patient education about the consequences of this disease will be an important step to help physicians and dentists increase follow-through with sleep apnea treatment plans and ensure a healthy night's rest for thousands of troubled sleepers.

You can learn more about this study and about the effects of untreated obstructive sleep apnea at www.aadsm.org. If you or your partner suffer from loud and frequent snoring, visit a sleep physician to get tested for sleep apnea, and then visit www.LocalSleepDentist.com to find a dentist who offers oral appliance therapy in your area.