Surgical Solutions for Sleep Apnea Sufferers

The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that 22 million Americans currently suffer from sleep apnea. Even more concerning is that 80 percent of the cases go undiagnosed. It may seem like snoring is just an annoying part of life, but it can be a sign of something more serious like obstructive sleep apnea.

For those who are aware of sleep apnea and the symptoms associated with it, many avoid treatment because they believe a breathing machine is the only option. CPAP machines don’t work for everyone. For some, a lifetime of using an often loud and bulky machine to sleep leaves them looking for more permanent solutions to their sleep apnea symptoms.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, or UPPP, is a bit of a mouthful to say but this procedure actually removes tissue to widen the airway of those diagnosed with sleep apnea. The name is actually a combination of the tissues that can be removed during the surgery which are:

Uvula: the strange hanging piece of tissue at the back of the throat

Soft Palate: the soft tissue that is found in the back of the roof of the mouth

Pharynx: the membrane that connects the mouth and nasal cavity with the esophagus and larynx

UPP is the most common surgery in the United States for correcting the complications associated with sleep apnea. Dallas-area oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Kevin Pollock, MS, DDS, treats sleep apena patients in his office.

“The first step in treating obstructive sleep apnea is to become aware it’s affecting your life and to seek consultation on the options available to you,” Pollock said. “Usually, the primary method of treatment begins with a CPAP machine. Unfortunately, some patients find these machines uncomfortable or ineffective and simply don’t want to commit to a lifetime of using them every single night to sleep so they begin to look for more permanent solutions. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty provides a more open airway that can help with a number of ailments.”

A similar procedure can also be performed with lasers called Laser-assisted Uvulopalatoplasty, or LAUP but this out-patient procedure is more for habitual snoring or very mild sleep apnea symptoms.

Orthognathic surgery is a more complicated option and involves repositioning the bones of the jaw. It requires a short stay in the hospital and general anesthesia. Sometimes referred to as corrective jaw surgery, this procedure can help with breathing problems, speech problems, jaw pain and other problems related to the alignment of the jaw.

“We can use advanced imaging technology to create three-dimensional models that allow us to plan out the procedure and show the patient exactly what will happen and how they will look after the surgery,” Pollocl said. ” Although this surgery can seem intense for some, the resulting jaw position is usually more attractive, better functioning and healthier.”

There are different types of sleep apnea that respond to each type of treatment differently. Talk to your doctor or dentist if you believe your snoring may be a symptom of something bigger. As technology evolves, more treatment options are constantly being developed so that one day no one will have to suffer from the exhaustion and health risks associated with sleep apnea.