Researchers at the UCLA Institute for Digital Research and Education (IDRE) have been working on a simulator that will allow doctors and dentists to predict how well various sleep apnea treatments will work for different patients. This complex problem could be invaluable in helping match up individuals with the optimal sleep apnea treatment.

closeup of woman sleeping peacefully in bed

Needs More Squishy

People have been working on this problem for over a decade, although the IDRE only got involved recently. They were approached by colleagues from the School of Dentistry, asking if they could create a simulator that would allow them to test whether oral appliances would help patients.

To accomplish this, they learned how to map the geometry of a patient’s airway using cone beam CT scans, which we regularly use in our office for imaging related to sleep apnea treatment as well as planning dental implant procedures. Then, using a sophisticated airflow simulator that they coded themselves, they can predict the effectiveness of each individual oral appliance, without having to send a patient home to try it out.

Programmers at the IDRE succeeded where many previous attempts had failed. Although earlier attempts had used real patient data and complex geometry to construct the simulated airway, they simulated the airway as a rigid pipe. Of course, if the airway were actually a rigid pipe, there would be no concerns about obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs because the airway relaxes, becomes squishy, and collapses. The IDRE researchers were able to account for this, improving the effectiveness of their model.

Although they have made progress, though, their simulation is not yet ready for release. When it is, though, the simulation will predict not only the effectiveness of oral appliances, but also whether surgical intervention will be effective.

Finding the Right Sleep Apnea Treatment

Hopefully, a simulation like this will help doctors expand their horizons about the sleep apnea treatments they recommend. Currently, doctors  almost exclusively prescribe CPAP for sleep apnea. That’s because they know it will be effective–if a patient uses it. But, unfortunately, many people do not adapt to CPAP, and not all of them seek out a second solution. It would be nice to link people to their optimal sleep apnea solution the first time, whether that’s CPAP, oral appliances, or even surgery.

If you are looking for help finding your optimal sleep apnea treatment, please call (201) 343-4044 for an appointment with a sleep dentist at River Edge Dental, New Jersey’s center for TMJ, sleep apnea, & reconstructive dentistry.