Rutgers School of Dental Medicine is making a new form of sleep apnea treatment available to Medicaid patients in New Jersey who previously lacked access to the less invasive device.
It’s estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, which can cause high blood pressure, acid reflux disease and increase the risk of stroke. But 80% of cases go undiagnosed. For lower-income patients, lack of affordable healthcare makes it even harder to get the help they need.
Through a new arrangement with Horizon HMO, patients will have coverage for a more comfortable form of sleep apnea treatment than the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure), a standard treatment that requires patients to place an apparatus over their faces during sleep. Many find it uncomfortable and don’t use it consistently.
“There’s a problem with access. We wanted to address that,’’ said Dr. Sowmya Ananthan, a faculty member who treats patients at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine’s Center for Temporomandibular Disorders and Orofacial Pain. She has also been involved in clinical research on obstructive sleep apnea. “Increasing accessibility will transform sleep apnea in New Jersey. As far as I know, no one outside of Rutgers offers this type of option.”
At Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, patients can be fitted with a mandibular advancement device (MAD), similar to a retainer, which pulls the lower jaw forward so that the airway is cleared. As long as they have healthy teeth and jaws, the device should be appropriate for them.
Dentists can often detect symptoms of sleep apnea, such as teeth grinding, or a larger than usual tongue, which can block air passages in the mouth. When Rutgers School of Dental Medicine providers suspect patients have the condition, they can refer them to the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s sleep laboratory for a diagnosis. If they have sleep apnea, and their oral cavity and jaw are healthy enough to support a MAD, they can have one custom-made at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine.