Sleep apnea is not something to take lightly. It is a serious disorder that is known to result in death due to cardiac arrests. Sleep apnea is a daily common problem and the most common and serious type of the disorder is called obstructive sleep apnea or OSA.
If you have OSA, you will feel deprived of oxygen when you sleep because the airways are getting blocked. Typically, this deprivation lasts for 1 to 20 seconds but it might be longer and that is dangerous.
It also causes a whole range of health problems like strokes, heart diseases, reduced immunity, high blood pressure levels, sleepiness during the day and more. It can also cause depression and general irritability which affect your interpersonal relationships.
How It Is Diagnosed
Typically, sleep apnea is diagnosed only by medical professionals through a sleep study. This is done in a lab with equipment operated by specialists. They will monitor factors like oxygen levels, heart rate and breathing patterns while you are asleep.
Apart from CPAP masks and oral appliances that look like retainers, surgery is also an option as a course of treatment. This is determined based on the severity of your condition among other factors. But is sleep apnea jaw surgery for you? Let’s find out.
Who Is Eligible for the Surgery?
Apart from being diagnosed with sleep apnea, you are an eligible candidate for jaw surgery if you have a jaw deformity like a deep bite, underbite or asymmetry that is causing breathing problems. The determination for sleep apnea jaw surgery is done by a doctor after a few sessions involving:
- An analysis of the symptoms
- An examination of the shape of your face, teeth, mouth and jaw bones
- An X-ray to look at the dimensions of the airways and the jaw
A lot of individuals who get corrective jaw surgery are teenagers but doctors also see plenty of individuals from their 30s to 50s opting for this surgery.
How the Surgery Works and What Recovery Is Like
OSA is caused because of the airway blocking oxygen from entering your lungs and then into your bloodstream. This is because the soft tissue in your throat collapses and shuts down the rear portion of your throat.
The surgery is a way to set the jaws forward so that the throat and hence the airways clear up. This allows the individual to breathe freely and sleep peacefully at night.
Corrective surgery can also be an option for those who have sleep apnea because of a high tongue. In this case, adjusting the jaw brings the tongue to the front and the palate area gets enlarged. This helps the individual breathe better and stops snoring.
There are two types of jaw surgery for this problem. If only the upper or the lower jaw is moved, it is called maxillomandibular advancement. But if both of them have to be moved, the procedure is called bimaxillary advancement.
The surgery is not a minor one, so the patient will be given general anesthesia. During the process, the doctor operates around the jaw and the gums. They make incisions to get to the bones and make more cuts with special tools.
Using splints, the bones are repositioned. Then with plates and screws, the bones are stabilized. Don’t worry, you won’t feel them when you move your jaw. The gums are then stitched up nicely in a dissolvable fashion.
If you have braces, you must consult your orthodontist to make sure they are safely removed before the surgery.
Here’s what recovery after this surgery looks like. You will be in the hospital overnight and following that you will get detailed instructions from your surgeon on how to take care of yourself after the surgery. You might have some inflammation for about two weeks after the surgery but that is quite normal.
The typical recovery time period is 2-3 months. But during the first six weeks, you will be on a soft diet or entirely on a liquid diet to make sure your jaw is healing as per schedule. It is possible that the doctor places rubber bands and/or braces around the teeth to keep them stable during recovery.
There will be a little bit of pain and swelling which can be handled with ice and medication like Tylenol. If there is an infection or the likelihood of there being one, you will be given stronger pain medication. There are hardly any complications from this surgery and even if there are any, they can be reversed.
You can get back to everyday household activities right after you are able to, but excessive lifting is not recommended. Light exercise is alright two weeks after the surgery. And heavy exercise can be done about six weeks after the surgery.
Advantages of the Surgery
There are a lot of benefits to getting surgery done to treat OSA. Here’s a look at some of them.
- Permanent relief from sleep apnea, which means better sleep and lowered risk of other health problems like obesity, infertility, depression, high blood pressure and heart problems.
- The numbness from the surgery does not last long for about 85 percent of the patients. And the pain is a lot less than other surgeries which means it is less painful than the least invasive of all oral surgeries like the ones performed on the soft palate.
- You might have the chance to get rid of the oral appliance or a CPAP mask if you have been using one.
Although it is important to note that in some specific cases, a CPAP mask is recommended even after jaw surgery.
While surgery is not the only option, it is certainly not a scary one as far as treating sleep apnea goes. But if you are prevention is better than cure kind of a person, you might benefit from knowing that not being obese, if you can help it, is a good way to go about it.
Exercise for about half an hour four times a week and eat well. Other than that, you can always go for CPAP masks and oral appliances but the best results do come from surgery, if you qualify.