Dental Appliances For Sleep Apnea: Are They Worth It?

Sleep apnea is more than just an inconvenience; it’s a genuine health risk that could impact your sleep quality and long-term well-being. If you’ve been researching ways to get relief from severe sleep apnea, you might have stumbled upon the term “sleep apnea dental appliance” during your research. But what are these devices, and are they worth considering? Let’s dive into what you need to know.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where your breathing is interrupted multiple times during sleep. These pauses in breathing can last from a few seconds to minutes and occur as often as 30 times or more per hour. This condition can cause reduced oxygen flow to the brain and the rest of the body, leading to serious health implications over time, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and even diabetes.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include interrupted breathing during sleep, loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, impaired cognitive function (“brain fog”), headaches, mouth breathing, and dry mouth.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are primarily three types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This is the most common form. It occurs when throat muscles relax too much during sleep, causing a physical blockage of the airway.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: Unlike OSA, this type isn’t due to a blockage. The brain fails to send the right signals to muscles that control breathing. As a result, you make no effort to breathe for brief periods.
  • Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome: Also known as Treatment-Emergent Central Sleep Apnea, this form is a combination of OSA and Central Sleep Apnea. It’s a more complex condition requiring specialized treatment.

What Are Dental and Oral Appliances for Treating Sleep Apnea?

Dental and oral appliances are custom-fitted devices you place in your mouth, much like a sports mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer. The goal is to keep your airways open while you sleep, which they achieve in one of two ways: either by repositioning your lower jaw or by holding your tongue in place.

Types of Dental Devices for Sleep Apnea

Here are some dental devices that are commonly used to treat mild to moderate sleep apnea:

  • Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs): Mandibular advancement devices are the most commonly used dental appliances for sleep apnea. They resemble mouth guards and work by pushing the lower jaw forward, which opens up the airway. MADs are generally effective for treating obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Tongue Retaining Devices: Less common than MADs, these oral devices work by holding the tongue forward to keep it from blocking the upper airway.
  • Soft Palate Lifters: Though less common, these appliances lift the soft palate to prevent it from collapsing into the throat and obstructing the airway during sleep.

How to Get a Dental Appliance For Sleep Apnea

If you are experiencing sleep apnea symptoms and think a dental device may be helpful in treating your sleep apnea, here’s what you’ll need to do in order to get one.

  1. Initial Consultation with a Sleep Specialist: You can get a referral from your primary care physician to see a sleep specialist. You’ll may undergo a sleep study, which can either be a home sleep test or an overnight stay at a sleep center. The data collected will confirm whether you have sleep apnea and its severity.
  2. Taking Impressions: Your sleep apnea specialist will take impressions of your upper and lower teeth. These molds are critical for creating a dental appliance that’s a perfect fit for your mouth.
  3. Crafting the Device: These impressions are then sent to a dental lab, where technicians craft your custom-fitted device. 
  4. Fitting and Adjustments: Once the device is ready, you’ll return for a fitting session. During this time, you’ll try on the appliance, and your sleep professional will make any necessary adjustments. They’ll also teach you how to clean and maintain the device and give you guidelines on how to gradually acclimate to wearing it overnight.
  5. Follow-up Appointments: After you’ve started using the device, a series of follow-up appointments may be scheduled in order to check the device’s fit, make additional adjustments, and evaluate its effectiveness.

Are They Secure and Safe?

Dental and oral appliances are safe and less invasive compared to other treatment options like surgery. They’ve been vetted through multiple clinical trials, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine even recommends them for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

While they’re largely safe, dental appliances aren’t entirely without drawbacks. Users might encounter a few issues, particularly when first starting the therapy:

  • Mild Discomfort: Initially, wearing an appliance can feel awkward or uncomfortable.
  • Changes in Bite: Some people have noted a change in their bite, though this usually reverts back to normal after discontinuing use.
  • Excessive Salivation: Getting used to a foreign object in your mouth can sometimes cause you to salivate more than usual.

Most of these side effects are minor and manageable. They often dissipate over time as you get used to wearing the device.

How Are Dental Appliances Different Than a CPAP Machine?

When it comes to treating sleep apnea, CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines and dental appliances are two of the most popular treatment options. However, they function differently and come with their own sets of pros and cons.

  • Working Mechanism: CPAP machines use air pressure to keep your airway open, while dental appliances shift your jaw or tongue position to achieve the same effect. CPAP involves wearing a mask connected to a machine, whereas dental appliances are mouthpieces that fit like a retainer.
  • Portability: One of the major advantages of dental appliances is their portability. Sleep apnea oral appliances are small, lightweight, and don’t require electricity, making them ideal for travel. CPAP machines, on the other hand, are more cumbersome, requiring a power outlet and more space, which can make them less convenient for frequent travelers.
  • Comfort: Comfort is subjective, but dental appliances generally have a shorter adjustment period. They’re often considered less intrusive since there’s no mask or tubing involved.
  • Suitability for Different Types of Sleep Apnea: CPAP is often considered the gold standard for severe sleep apnea and can treat various forms, including central and complex sleep apnea. Dental appliances, however, are generally recommended for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Cost: The cost factor can also be a differentiator. While insurance often covers both, dental appliances are usually less expensive compared to CPAP machines.

Contact Healthy Sleep Midwest for Sleep Apnea Treatment

Quality sleep can be in your future! Dental appliances for sleep apnea are often an effective treatment option that can allow you to have a restful night of sleep once again. Contact us today to get started on finding the right treatment for sleep apnea.