The use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. However, many people don’t like the idea of wearing obstructive devices. This explains the popularity of dental appliances for sleep apnea – they are convenient, easy to use, and portable.
Understanding Dental Appliance for Sleep Apnea
Before prescribing any forms of treatment, doctors recommend a sleep study to determine the cause and severity of the condition. For most people, the pressurized air from a CPAP mask provides a good treatment for sleep apnea. This is why most sleep doctors recommend this treatment, particularly for moderate to severe cases of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). However, many cannot tolerate the discomfort of the mask and the noise from the device.
Most patients of mild to moderate cases opt for the use of a dental appliance for sleep apnea. Also referred to as an oral mandibular advancement device, this tool minimizes snoring by preventing the tongue from moving backwards and blocking the airway. It also pushes the lower jaw a little bit forward to open up the airway better.
In some cases, doctors may recommend dental devices along with the CPAP device to lower the high pressure needs.
How Dental Appliances Work
First, there are two basic types of dental appliances:
- Mandibular Advancement Devices (MAD)
- Tongue Retaining Mouth Guard
Mandibular Advancement Devices look a lot like orthodontic retainers or athletic mouth guards. They snap right over the arches of the upper and lower dental parts of the mouth. Unlike regular mouth guards, though, they come with metal hinges that connect the upper and lower pieces together.
As its name suggests, the MAD type dental appliance pushes the tongue and the lower jaw a little forward. This promotes normal breathing during sleep by helping the muscles and tissues around the throat (i.e. pharynx) from collapsing in the airways. Most of the time, these devices are adjustable, allowing the patient to find the best position for their jaw for efficacy and comfort.
Tongue Retaining Mouthpieces are a lot like the MAD type when it comes to their construction. However, they come with a small compartment that suctions the tongue and hold it forward. This process keeps the tongue from collapsing to the airway. This device is usually prescribed to patients who cannot effectively reposition their jaws forward.
Getting a Dental Appliance for Sleep Apnea
To get a dental appliance, your doctor will refer you to a sleep specialist to properly diagnose your condition. The evaluation requires an overnight sleep and a follow-up appointment to talk about the results and discuss the treatment options.
Should you choose the dental appliance route, your sleep doctor will then refer you to a qualified dentist. This type of dentist went through extensive training in OSA treatment. Your dentist will then prescribe custom-fit oral devices to perfectly fit to your mouth.
Why Custom-Fit Is Best
Each individual has a specific mouth, teeth, and jaw shape. Thus, to get the perfect fit that actually works, your dentist will work on finding the right fit of dental device for you.
To do this, your dentist will take an impression (mold) of your mouth and teeth then send it to the lab for the device to be made. After a couple of weeks, your dental appliance will be ready. Your dentist will then fit it to your mouth and adjust it to move your jaw forward and reposition your jaw comfortably.
The dentist will supervise the adjustment of the dental device over the course of several weeks. Thus, you need follow-up visits to your dentists for the weekly tunings.
While there are many cheap, non-prescription over-the-counter sleep mouth guards available in most drug stores, they are not recommended by dentists. These devices either don’t work or could even complicate the problem even further. Ill-fitted mouth guards could take up too much space inside the mouth, pushing the tongue further down the throat, making the problem worse.
While some may find their snoring symptoms went away, over-the-counter mouth guards cannot make adjustments on the jaw, which means the exact cause of the disorder is not properly addressed.
The use of dental appliance for sleep apnea is far more tolerable than the CPAP mask and device, especially in the long run. While there may be some discomfort such as jaw pain and soreness while the device is making minute adjustments of your jaw, the process could effectively treat the disorder.
Those with mild to moderate sleep apnea, primary snoring (absence of sleep apnea disorder), and people who had unsuccessful or refused dental surgeries should definitely check out this option first.