Sleep Apnea Mouth Guard

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What is a sleep apnea mouth guard, and can getting your hands on one of these oral appliances really prove key to treating your sleep apnea?

As anyone suffering with obtrusive sleep apnea will already know all too well, sleep apnea is a rather horrible condition. It prevents you from sleeping comfortably, and finding a good solution can be difficult. But in recent years, oral appliance therapy with oral splints or sleep apnea mouth guards has become an increasingly popular and effective method of treating sleep apnea in most cases.

In this article, we’ll explore how wearing a mouth guard to sleep can help alleviate your sleep apnea, as well as where and how to get hold of a truly effective sleep apnea mouth guard.

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is classified as a sleep disorder and is a surprisingly common condition. In other words, if you have it you’re far from alone.

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by an obstruction of the upper airway and occurs when a person stops breathing for at least 10 seconds while asleep.

Even if you only have one episode of sleep apnea, this could still be a major problem, but it is when the respiratory events that define sleep apnea become frequent interruptions to your sleep that you should really think about consulting a sleep physician and request help to get your sleep apnea treated.

What causes sleep apnea

When the muscles at the back of the throat fail to keep the airways open, allowing you to breathe normally, you have sleep apnea.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single cause of obstructive sleep apnea. There are several potential underlying causes, such as having large tonsils or a large tongue, excess tissue in the upper airway, blocked nasal passages, or a jaw and airway structure that makes achieving and maintaining proper airflow difficult.

Why sleep apnea is a problem

Depending on what is causing it, obstructive sleep apnea can be temporary or more permanent in nature. And not only does it feel very uncomfortable and can be disruptive to the sufferer’s sleeping schedule, it can also exacerbate other medical issues.

Unfortunately, defining the problem is easier and simpler than finding a cure or a truly effective permanent solution.

OSA treatment options

There is more than one potential sleep apnea treatment option available to you. As with all other conditions and disorders, sleep apnea requires a proper diagnosis and a customised approach.

The first step towards getting the treatment you need it to consult your physician. He or she may not be particularly knowledgeable about sleep disorders but will be able to refer you to an expert.

Sleep disorders were once widely misunderstood, but sleep specialists have made significant progress in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders in recent years.

A sleep physician will first try to determine the source of your sleep apnea. When there is a clear physical cause, it is much easier to treat the problem with the appropriate device or treatment. You may need to undergo one or more exams before receiving a clear diagnosis and treatment recommendation, depending on the cause and severity of your specific case of sleep apnea.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure

A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (or CPAP) machine may be the best solution for you if your sleep apnea is both moderate and ongoing. CPAP therapy is the gold standard in the treatment of sleep apnea in many ways.

A CPAP machine works by blowing a stream of air into your throat while you sleep to combat sleep apnea.

The CPAP machine itself might seem clunky and cumbersome because it requires you to wear a mask over your face in order for the machine to provide continuous airflow while you sleep. Because of this, not everyone tolerates CPAP therapy well and instead prefer to look for an alternative. This is where purchasing a sleep apnea mouth guard comes into the picture.

Oral appliance therapy

Oral appliance therapy is a low-tech version of CPAP therapy that aims to create continuous airflow as well. Wearing an oral device, such as tongue retaining devices, mandibular advancement splints, and, of course, sleep apnea mouth guards, is required for oral appliance therapy.

Sleep apnea mouth guards

Sleep apnea mouth guards are just one type of treatment available for sleep apnea suffers. Whether a sleep apnea mouth guard is the right treatment for your specific case comes down to what is causing your airway disruptions as well as the severity of your sleep apnea episodes.

While mouthguards can help with mild to moderate sleep apnea, they may not be enough if your condition is severe. Current sleep medicine guidelines recommend that mouth guards and other oral devices be used only for mild to moderate OSA, with more severe cases almost always require CPAP therapy.

A sleep apnea mouthguard, also known as a mandibular advancement device, is designed and intended to improve and maintain airflow by using positive airway pressure. The mouthguard works by slightly pushing and holding the tongue and lower jaw forward so that you can breathe normally and without disruption.

Typically, a doctor or sleep specialist will prescribe mouthguards specifically designed to treat obstructive sleep apnea. They are custom-made to fit your mouth perfectly to maximise their effectiveness. Sure you can get over-the-counter sleep apnea mouth guards, but if you want one that is truly effective, you need to get one custom made.

Because they are expertly made, custom fitted, and may require adjustment by the prescribing dentist, they tend to be significantly more expensive than any of the boil and bite mouthguards you can get over the counter.

It may be tempting to simply go to the nearest pharmacy and pick up a boil-and-bite mouth guard that you can mould to your teeth at home right away, jumping through the hoops is wort it to get a truly effective, custom-fitted mouthguard for your sleep apnea.

Tongue retaining devices

Among the oral appliances that may be used to treat sleep apnea are tongue retaining devices.

A tongue retaining device does exactly what it says on the tin: It holds and keeps the tongue in one place so that it cannot block your airway. As an added bonus, wearing a tongue retaining device can help eliminate snoring.

Mandibular advancement devices

Splints, also known as mandibular advancement devices, are used to prevent sleep apnea and snoring. They work by moving the jaw forward slightly to ensure continuous airflow.

Final thoughts on sleep apnea mouth guards

Sleep apnea is a surprisingly common sleep disorder with more than one cause and more than one treatment option. It can range in severity from mild to severe, and it in no small part the severity of your sleep apnea that dictates whether or not wearing a custom mouth guard to bed at night is going to be an effective solution.

The less severe your sleep apnea, the easier it will be to find an effective solution. If you have severe sleep apnea, you may be forced to use CPAP therapy, which is at the very least very effective.

Oral appliance therapy may be sufficient if your sleep apnea is only mild or moderate. Mouthpieces for sleep apnea work in several ways, including preventing your tongue or other soft tissue from blocking your airway and applying positive pressure to your jaw to keep your mouth open and allow for uninterrupted airflow.

Finding the best sleep apnea treatment for you begins with consulting a physician, who will most likely refer you to a sleep specialist, who will assess your condition and recommend the best treatment, which may or may not be a sleep mouth guard.

Frequently asked questions

Do mouthguards work for sleep apnea?

The underlying cause and severity of your sleep disorder determine the effectiveness of a sleep mouth guard as a treatment for sleep apnea. While mouthguards and other oral appliances can often prevent mild to moderate sleep apnea, CPAP machines are required in severe cases.

Can a mouth guard make sleep apnea worse?

An improperly fitted mouth guard can exacerbate sleep apnea by increasing the number and severity of respiratory events.

This is why getting a custom-made mouthguard is so important.

Can a mouth guard replace a CPAP machine?

In some cases, yes.

In order to reduce sleep apneas, both CPAP machines and oral appliance therapy work to provide continuous airflow. If the sleep apnea is mild to moderate, a mouthguard can often replace a CPAP machine
However, in severe cases, only CPAP therapy will suffice.

Dr Febin Mary George - Editor

With more than 10 years as a dental surgeon, Dr Febin Mary George is passionate about educating consumers around the world to help look after their teeth.

She completed her Bachelor of Surgery at the Century Institute of Dental Science and Research Centre in 2010.

Alongside editing the International Journal of Dental Clinics she has also written for major publications including Thrive Global.