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The Role Of Mouth Guards In Treating Sleep Apnea: An Overview

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where the airway becomes blocked during sleep, causing repeated episodes of stopped or shallow breathing. This condition can lead to several health problems, including daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

But while Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines are often the first line of treatment for sleep apnea, they can be an inconvenient and uncomfortable solution for some people. This article discusses the role of mouth guards in treating sleep apnea to help you decide if it’s the best option for you. 

How Mouth Guards Treat Sleep Apnea

A sleep apnea mouth guard is a custom-fitted oral device designed to maintain an open, unobstructed airway while you sleep. They work by repositioning the lower jaw forward or restraining the tongue to prevent it from blocking the throat. These oral appliances are typically used to treat mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea and are often an alternative for patients who can’t tolerate CPAP therapy.

There are two main types of mouth guards:

  • Mandibular advancement devices (MADs): These are the most common type of mouth guard for sleep apnea. MADs fit over the upper and lower teeth with a hinge to move the lower jaw.
  • Tongue retaining devices (TRDs): These oral appliances hold the tongue forward, helping to keep the airway open.

While you can purchase a premade sleep apnea mouth guard over the counter, it’s best to get a customised device as they’re more comfortable and effective. Denture clinics can custom-fit mouth guards according to material, how much it covers the teeth/tongue, and how much jaw movement it allows, among other characteristics.

 How Effective Are Mouth Guards For Treating Sleep Apnea?

Several studies have shown that oral appliances can significantly lower the Apnea-Hypopnea Index (AHI), a measure of the severity of sleep apnea. And while CPAP machines are more effective at reducing pauses in breathing and improving blood oxygen levels during sleep, MADs can compare favourably to CPAP in terms of improving daytime sleepiness, reducing snoring, and lowering blood pressure.

In the end, the effectiveness of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) therapy hinges on consistent use by the individual. Research suggests that about half of those prescribed CPAP therapy either fail to use it regularly or abandon it altogether. People who find oral appliances more comfortable are more willing to use them consistently, standing a much better chance of benefiting from their treatment.

 Pros And Cons Of Using Mouth Guards To Treat Sleep Apnea

Mouth guards have several advantages over other sleep apnea treatment options, including:

  • Comfort: Many patients find mouth guards more comfortable than a CPAP mask.
  • Portability: Mouth guards are compact and portable, making them ideal for travel.
  • Ease of use: They’re easy to wear and remove and require minimal maintenance.
  • Non-invasive: Unlike some treatments for sleep apnea such as surgery, mouth guards are relatively non-invasive.

However, there are cases when wearing an oral appliance may cause symptoms that include:

  • Teeth discomfort
  • Jaw joint pain
  • Gum irritation
  • Dry mouth
  • Bite changes

These mouth guard side effects are usually mild and temporary, often subsiding after a few weeks. If you use a mouth guard to treat sleep apnea, scheduling regular visits with your healthcare provider is best. This enables them to adjust the device as necessary, ensuring proper fit and preventing potential side effects.

 Considerations For Mouth Guard Use

While mouth guards have their benefits, there are some considerations. First, they must be custom fitted by a dentist or orthodontist specialising in sleep apnea. Over-the-counter options are generally not recommended due to poor fit and limited efficacy.

In addition, sleep apnea mouth guards aren’t recommended for the following:

  • Low blood oxygen: An oral appliance may not be enough to treat people whose sleep apnea causes blood oxygen levels to fall below 70% during sleep.
  • Certain dental conditions: These include people lacking an adequate number of teeth to secure the device, those suffering from jaw joint diseases or immobility, and those wearing braces or retainers. Moreover, any impending dental procedures, including fillings or crowns, must be performed before the oral appliance fitting.
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA): In CSA, the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing, rendering opening the airway insufficient.

Although mouth guards can be effective for many individuals, they’re best suited for treating mild to moderate sleep apnea. More comprehensive treatment methods may be required for those with severe sleep apnea or significant weight issues.

 Final Words

Mouth guards can play a significant role in treating sleep apnea. They offer a practical, efficient, and comfortable alternative for patients who can’t tolerate or are unwilling to use CPAP therapy. With proper guidance and regular monitoring, mouth guards can significantly improve sleep quality and overall health in individuals with sleep apnea.

Remember, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider or sleep specialist to discuss the best treatment options for your specific needs.