Sleep Apnea, a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or instances of shallow or infrequent breathing during sleep, can have profound effects on quality of life and overall health. Though commonly treated with lifestyle changes or devices such as CPAP machines, not everyone with this condition finds relief.

In that case, could oral and maxillofacial surgery provide an answer? The answer is – yes. In this article, renowned surgical expert Dr Mark Austin will discuss how oral and maxillofacial surgery can play a crucial role in treating sleep apnea.

Understanding Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that happens when an individual’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in repeated drops in oxygen levels during sleep, leading to a host of health complications including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure.

The Role of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons play a unique role in the treatment of sleep apnea due to their specialized training in treating conditions that affect the face, mouth, and jaws.

Understanding Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Most cases of sleep apnea are known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which happens when there’s partial or complete blockage of the top airways during sleep, generally due to the collapse of soft tissue at the back of the throat. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons provide surgical options to address these obstructions effectively.

Surgical Options

In general, surgical treatment aims at enlarging the breathing passages. This broad objective can be accomplished via several different methods. Surgical solutions include:

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) – This procedure involves removing excess tissues from the throat to expand the air passages. This could include parts of the soft palate, uvula (the dangling bit seen at the back of the throat), and, occasionally, the tonsils and the pharynx (throat).
  • Genioglossus Advancement (GA) – In this procedure, a small segment of the lower jaw that attaches to the tongue is moved forward, thereby pulling the tongue away from the back of the throat and reducing the potential for obstruction.
  • Maxillomandibular Advancement (MMA) – In more severe cases, Maxillomandibular advancement (MMA) might be recommended. This procedure moves both the upper and lower jaws forward, thus increasing the room behind the tongue and soft palate, resulting in less obstruction.
  • Soft Palate Surgery – Sometimes, reducing the size of the soft palate or stiffening it can help reduce snoring and mild sleep apnea.

Selecting Your Ideal Surgical Treatment

The selection of surgery and the sequence of surgeries are based on the patient’s specific anatomic findings and overall health status. Each patient is unique, and the decision should be carefully made in collaboration with a medical team experienced in the treatment of sleep apnea.

For Dr Mark Austin, it’s important to note that while these surgical approaches can be quite successful, they are usually considered after non-surgical treatments have failed. Positive lifestyle changes, use of a CPAP machine, and dental appliances remain first-line treatments for sleep apnea. If you’re experiencing sleep apnea symptoms, don’t hesitate to reach out to a specialist for comprehensive evaluation and treatment discussion.

By Justin