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Sleep and Health Journal
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The Best Sleep Apnea Treatment: CPAP vs. Oral Appliances. A Question of Compliance and Effectiveness. Oral Appliances Win the Compliance Award. CPAP is the Best First Choice for Morbidly Obese Patient

CPAP is considered the Gold Standard for sleep apnea treatment but poor compliance issues with CPAP often make oral appliances the best sleep apnea treatment. For the morbidly obese patient, CPAP is the best first line treatment.

GURNEE, IL, August 21, 2010 ( What is the best sleep apnea treatment? It is not CPAP, according to a recent study that showed 60% of patients abandon CPAP use. At least it is not the best treatment for the 60% of patients who abandoned it. This does not mean CPAP is not the most effective treatment, what it means is no matter how effective a treatment may be, it is a poor treatment if it is not used. Oral appliances are an extremely effective treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea but less effective for morbidly obese patients and those with severe sleep apnea.

Oral appliances are the "Best Sleep Apnea Treatment" because patients actually use them. Compliance issues have always been the biggest problem with CPAP. Studies have shown most patients quit CPAP completely but even patients who use CPAP average only 4-5 hours/ night 4-5 nights a week. That is not the best treatment but it is better than no treatment. The best site for information on oral appliance therapy and dental sleep medicine is

Medicare recognized how poor CPAP compliance was and now has minimum usage schedules for CPAP that will save Medicare millions of dollars because such a small percentage of patients actually utilize their machines on a regular basis.

CPAP is the "best treatment" for the 25% of patients who love their CPAP, and use it all night, every night.

Oral appliances may be less effective across a range of all patients at eliminating sleep apnea but they are much more effective at achieving patient compliance. A treatment that is used will always be superior to a treatment that is not used.

Oral appliance success can be greatly improved by titration of appliances in the sleep lab. When an appliance eliminates sleep apnea based on a sleep study it is effectively equivalent to CPAP. The issue of compliance almost always favors oral appliances but objective monitors for oral appliance use are not yet available. They probably will be available in the very near future making oral appliances a leading choice of sleep medicine physicians who care about patients desires.

The best treatment is one that works and is used. For most patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea the best treatment is an oral appliance due to much higher compliance. If compliance is equal and CPAP or appliances are equally effective than both would qualify as the best treatment. The patient can chose their desired treatment. Studies have shown the majority of patients offered a choice prefer a comfortable oral appliance over CPAP.

Some severe sleep apnea patients refuse CPAP, for those patients an oral appliance is superior to "no treatment".

CPAP is almost always the best treatment for the morbidly obese patients but an oral appliance is still better than no treatment if CPAP is refused.

There are patients who are severe and/or morbidly obese and the "best treatment" is actually combination treatment of an oral appliance and CPAP combined. A mask retained by the teeth instead of straps may be considerably more comfortable for many patients and lower pressure from combined use makes CPAP easier to tolerate.

The best treatment may be CPAP but with a custom made nasal mask that is made from an impression of the patients face similar to how dentures are made. Custom masks combined with oral appliances are a new entry in the field coming from airway management.

Cleanliness is of major importance with both CPAP and oral appliance treatments. Dirty masks and hoses can lead to sinus infections, bronchitis and pneumonia while poor oral hygiene with an oral appliance can lead to periodontal disease. Dr Shapira advise all patients to keep their masks and hoses scrupulously clean. It is vital to be just as thorough in cleaning oral appliances and in maintaining oral hygiene care when wearing an oral appliance. They are not well suited for patients who do not regularly brush their teeth.

What is the best CPAP mask for patients who utilize CPAP? Studies have shown that different masks and machines usually do not increase patient compliance but they do increase comfort for patients who actually use CPAP. Other studies have shown that patients' usage of CPAP initially predicts long term compliance with CPAP. Patients who reject CPAP initially rarely embrace CPAP use in the long term. What is the best CPAP mask? A mask the patient actually uses. This will be very patient specific.

What is the best type of CPAP machine? There is standard CPAP machines that come in many styles and shapes. The industry has done a good job of making CPAP machines quieter and smaller. BiPAP machines have lower pressure during expiration that reduces claustrophobic feelings in some patients and often eliminates the sensation of drowning on air. Ramping is a gradual increase in pressure allowing patients to fall asleep prior to pressure increasing. Humidification and heated hoses are also increasing patient comfort. Unfortunately all of these advances have not been shown to increase overall patient compliance.

Servo-ventilation machines are more efficient and effective in treating central sleep apnea, which is a neurological condition where the brain "forgets" to breathe.

The best sleep apnea treatment is always patient specific. The 60% of patients who do not tolerate CPAP will likely find comfortable oral appliances are the best treatment.

A small minority of patients do not tolerate CPAP or oral appliances. The best treatment for these patients may be surgery.

What is the best sleep apnea surgery? The morbidly obese and extremely severe sleep apneics may find that a tracheotomy is the best treatment. Patients breathe through their throat bypassing the pharyngeal blockages. Most patients do not want a trach.

Soft palate surgery is almost never the best sleep apnea treatment. UP3 or Uvulopalatopharyngealplasty is painful and has very high morbidity but more importantly rarely eliminates sleep apnea and patients still require CPAP or oral appliance therapy. Pillars, somnoplasty, LAUP or laser-assisted uvuloplasty are less painful but still ineffective in treating most apnea patients completely.

Maxilo mandibular advancement is extremely effective but is major surgery where the upper jaw (maxilla) is cut loose from the skull and often split in pieces, the lower jaw (mandible) is sectioned into 3 pieces and the hyoid bone is sectioned in pieces and then the patient is wired shut for six weeks. This surgery is often very successful. A geniohyoid surgery is less invasive only splitting the lower jaw in pieces and advancing the chin and tongue. While it is effective in patients with severely recessed lower jaws (weak chin) in most patients it is the "Jay Leno" surgery creating his unique profile.

For severely obese patients with severe sleep apnea bariatric surgery may be the best sleep apnea treatment.

It is also possible to do several tongue reduction surgeries that vary in effectiveness. Dr Shapira suggests that patients attempt CPAP and/or Oral Appliances before considering surgery. Patients with blocked nasal airways frequently improve with partial turbinectomies and correction of deviated septums but while helpful this will usually not eliminate sleep apnea.

Dr Shapira reminds patients of the famous quote: "There is no disease or disorder known to man that can't be made worse by sticking a knife in it." This does not mean to avoid surgery cautions Dr Shapira but rather to approach any surgery with caution and consider the possible problems associated with surgery.

Information on the dangers of sleep apnea, sleep apnea treatment and comfortable oral appliances is available at

Dr Ira L Shapira is an author and section editor of Sleep and Health Journal, President of I HATE CPAP LLC, President Dato-TECH, and has a Dental Practice with his partner Dr Mark Amidei. He has recently formed Chicagoland Dental Sleep Medicine Associates. He is a Regent of ICCMO and its representative to the TMD Alliance, He was a founding and certified member of the Sleep Disorder Dental Society which became the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, A founding member of DOSA the Dental Organization for Sleep Apnea. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine, A Diplomat of the American Academy of Pain Management, a graduate of LVI. He is a former assistant professor at Rush Medical School's Sleep Service where he worked with Dr Rosalind Cartwright who is a founder of Sleep Medicine and Dental Sleep Medicine. Dr Shapira is a consultant to numerous sleep centers and teaches courses in Dental Sleep Medicine in his office to doctors from around the U.S. He is the Founder of I HATE CPAP LLC and Dr Shapira also holds several patents on methods and devices for the prophylactic minimally invasive early removal of wisdom teeth and collection of bone marrow and stem cells. Dr Shapira is a licensed general dentist in Illinois and Wisconsin.

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[] The Best Sleep Apnea Treatment: CPAP vs. Oral Appliances. A Question of Compliance and Effectiveness. Oral Appliances Win the Compliance Award. CPAP is the Best First Choice for Morbidly Obese Patient
CPAP is considered the Gold Standard for sleep apnea treatment but poor compliance issues with CPAP often make oral appliances the best sleep apnea treatment. For the morbidly obese patient, CPAP is the best first line treatment. is a service of DragonFly Company. All Rights Reserved.
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