A sleep apnea mouth guard is an oral appliance, similar to a mouth guard, that you wear at night to protect you from the effects of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). While there are numerous treatments for sleep apnea, these mouth guards have been found effective in restoring a peaceful night’s sleep.
But how exactly do these sleep apnea mouth guards work? Are they worth it?
This article helps you to answer these and other questions by extensively highlighting:
- What sleep apnea mouth guards are and how they function;
- Different types of sleep apnea mouth guards;
- The pros and cons of sleep apnea mouth guards;
- How to combine these mouth guards with other sleep apnea treatments.
What Is a Sleep Apnea Mouth Guard?
To understand what exactly a sleep apnea mouth guard is, it would be prudent first to understand what exactly sleep apnea is.
According to the National Institute of Health, sleep apnea is a common condition where breathing suddenly stops and restarts several times during sleep. The name ‘apnea’ derives from the Greek word ‘breathless.’
The main cause of sleep apnea is a blockage in your airways (Obstructive Sleep Apnea). This is when the muscles at the back of the throat relax excessively during sleep, causing the airway to become partially or completely blocked. This obstruction leads to pauses in breathing and repeated awakenings throughout the night.
However, it can also be caused when your brain can’t correctly control your breathing (Central Apnea).
Whenever your normal breathing stops during sleep, your lack of oxygen automatically activates a survival reflex that wakes you up to resume breathing. While this reflex keeps you moving, it irritatingly disrupts your sleep.
This is where sleep apnea mouth guards come in.
A sleep apnea mouth guard is an oral appliance, similar to standard TMJ mouth guards, that repositions the jaw and tongue, thereby keeping the airway open and reducing breathing obstructions that lead to sleep disruptions.
How Do Mouth Guards for Sleep Apnea Work?
Sleep apnea mouth guards primarily work by advancing the lower jaw forward. Doing so prevents the soft tissues at the back of the throat from collapsing.
This way, it can open the airway to allow for uninterrupted airflow, facilitating regular and uninterrupted breathing during sleep. These oral appliances also treat related signs and symptoms, such as snoring.
Different Types of Mouth Guards for Sleep Apnea
There are four common types of mouth guards for sleep apnea. All these mouth guards are custom-made and prescribed depending on the patient’s unique needs. They include:
Also known as a Mandibular Repositioning Device (MRD) or Mandibular Advancement Splint (MAS), these mouth guards work by advancing the lower jaw (mandible) into a forward position, thus preventing the collapse of the soft tissues at the back of the throat.
MADs consist of two trays that fit over the upper and lower teeth, connected by hinges. You can also get a two-piece design where the upper and lower mouth guards are not connected, allowing for better movement. However, even though the latter may be more comfortable, they are not ideal for people that sleep on their backs.
Nevertheless, MADs are adjustable, allowing personalized advancement to achieve optimal effectiveness and comfort.
Tongue-Retaining Devices (TRDs) focus on addressing tongue-related obstructions. It works by keeping the tongue in a forward position, making it not collapse back and blocking the airway during sleep.
TRDs have a special compartment that appears like a suction cup that holds the tongue. They are also attached to the lips or teeth, which makes them a less comfortable option compared to MADs.
(Image source: ResearchGate)
Elevating the soft palate and uvula, soft palate lifters strive to minimize vibrations from the soft palate. However, conclusive evidence regarding their efficacy is yet to be established.
(Image source: SML Dental Lab)
Ongoing research and advancements continue as researchers and manufacturers strive to enhance comfort and effectiveness.
An innovative design that has garnered attention involves the combination of a mandibular advancement device (MAD) with a tongue-retaining device (TRD).
This amalgamation has demonstrated superior efficacy in reducing respiratory events compared to the use of a MAD alone, showcasing the potential for improved outcomes in sleep apnea treatment.
Pros and Cons of Sleep Apnea Mouth Guards
Sleep apnea mouth guards have been proven to provide comfort and alleviate the effects of sleep apnea. They also come with a plethora of other benefits, all working to improve your sleep quality.
However, there are also a few notable drawbacks and risks associated with mouth guards for sleep apnea.
- They are non-invasive: These mouth guards offer a non-surgical solution for treating sleep apnea.
- Improved sleep quality: Sleep apnea mouth guards effectively reduce the frequency and severity of sleep apnea events, leading to improved sleep quality and overall well-being.
- They are custom-made: Sleep apnea mouth guards are custom-made to fit each patient’s mouth, ensuring a comfortable fit and maximizing effectiveness.
- No noise: Other treatment options, like CPAP machines, sound incredibly loud and may even disrupt your sleep further. Mouth guards for sleep apnea have the benefit of creating no additional noise, allowing you to sleep peacefully.
- They are highly portable: Mouth guards used for sleep apnea are highly compact and portable, making them easy to travel with and carry around.
- They are easy to use: There are no complexities surrounding the proper use of sleep apnea mouth guards, as one simply puts them on when going to sleep. Moreover, they do not require recharging or access to any power supply to function.
- Initial discomfort: Some patients may initially experience discomfort when using these mouth guards. Other wearers may also experience jaw soreness. However, this discomfort is often temporary and may resolve as the mouth adjusts to the device.
- Limited effectiveness: Sleep apnea mouth guards are generally recommended for mild and moderate cases of OSA. This means they may not be effective in more severe cases where intense treatment solutions like Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) or surgery may be recommended.
- Dry mouth or excessive salivation: Some users tend to experience the production of excessive saliva or dry mouth when using mouth guards for sleep apnea. However, this may be resolved by adjusting the fit of the mouth guard and implementing other oral hygiene practices, including proper hydration.
- Bite changes: Mouth guards used for sleep apnea can cause changes in one’s bite due to the lower jaw shifting forward. While these changes are mostly unnoticeable or are gradual, they may change one’s bite.
However, regarding the bite changes, some experts note that this may actually be beneficial as they potentially reduce cases like overjets or overbites. You may also have to consider getting a night guard with braces if you are on orthodontic treatment and wouldn’t wish for your mouth guard to affect the results.
While sleep apnea mouth guards are ideal for alleviating sleep apnea symptoms, some patients may experience these drawbacks, which may ultimately cause overall discomfort.
However, whenever you experience any of these downsides, it is crucial that you consult with your dental practitioner or sleep therapist as soon as possible.
Combining Mouth Guards With Other Sleep Apnea Treatments
Sleep apnea mouth guards are an ideal treatment for people with mild to moderate sleep apnea. However, this is not the only treatment you can get for the condition, as other solutions may be more applicable for more severe cases.
Moreover, these mouth guards can be combined with other treatment options to enhance the effectiveness of managing sleep apnea and improve overall treatment outcomes.
Here are some other treatment options that can be combined with mouth guards to treat sleep apnea:
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy is a common prescription treatment for sleep apnea. It is usually used on more advanced sleep apnea cases but can also be used alongside mouth guards.
With CPAP therapy, you wear a mask connected to a machine that delivers a continuous flow of air pressure, which keeps the airway open as you sleep. Mouth guards, in this case, can help reduce air leaks around the mask, allowing for lower CPAP pressure settings.
Surgery may be recommended for severe sleep apnea cases to address any anatomical concerns contributing to airway obstruction. After surgical intervention, a mouth guard can help maintain the corrected airway position, preventing the relapse of sleep apnea symptoms.
Sleep apnea can become more pronounced due to certain lifestyle choices. Obesity and the use of drugs like alcohol and smoking can increase the symptoms of sleep apnea.
However, by incorporating changes in your life, such as regular exercise, weight loss, and avoiding alcohol and smoking, you can easily alleviate sleep apnea symptoms when used alongside mouth guards.
Moreover, if you have bruxism, which may accelerate the symptoms of sleep apnea, you may consider getting a good NTI night guard.
Symptoms of sleep apnea can become more pronounced for some people when they sleep in certain positions. Positional therapy involves using specialized devices or techniques to maintain a specific sleep position, helping minimize airway obstruction.
Using positional therapy alongside sleep apnea mouth guards further enhances the effectiveness of treatment by reducing the likelihood of airway blockage.
Getting Your Own Sleep Apnea Mouth Guard
You can easily order a ‘boil and bite’ mouth guard online to help alleviate sleep apnea symptoms. However, the best route is to consult your doctor, who will help you find the best solution.
The process of getting your own sleep apnea mouth guard is pretty simple and contains the following steps:
- Consultation: You will first be assessed by a doctor or a professional specializing in sleep disorders. They will determine if a mouth guard is an ideal treatment option, or you may require other treatments, like surgery. If you have other conditions, like teeth grinding, which often aggravate the symptoms of OSA, your doctor may recommend getting a night guard instead. Ensure you get high-quality mouth guards, such as Pro Teeth, which you can read more about in our comprehensive Pro Teeth Guard review.
- Customization: If you are a good candidate for a sleep apnea mouth guard, the doctor takes impressions of your teeth and jaws, using them to create a custom-fitted device.
- Fitting and adjustment: Once the mouth guard has been created, the doctor fits and adjusts it to ensure optimal comfort and effectiveness. From there, you will get instructions on how to use and care for your mouth guard.
Sleep apnea mouth guards provide a simple, effective, and affordable solution to sleep apnea and its related symptoms. However, while it is now easy to order and get a sleep apnea mouth guard online or from your local pharmacy, consult with your doctor or sleep professional to help you determine the best type of treatment to use.
Yes, sleep apnea mouth guards can help treat the condition. They work by repositioning the jaw and tongue to keep the airway open during sleep, reducing the frequency and severity of sleep apnea events.
Yes, dentists with expertise in sleep disorders can make custom-made mouth guards for sleep apnea.
The cost of sleep apnea mouth guards can vary depending on several factors, including the location, the complexity of the case, and the dentist's fees. On average, sleep apnea mouth guards can range in cost from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
No, sleeping with a properly fitted and appropriate mouth guard for sleep apnea is generally safe and beneficial. Sleep apnea mouth guards are designed to be worn during sleep and should not cause harm when used correctly.