Mouthguards for Sleep Apnea

Evidence Based
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What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes your breathing to stop or become very shallow. Pauses in breathing may last from a few seconds to minutes. These pauses may occur 30 times or more within an hour.

The most common type of this condition is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This form of sleep apnea causes your airway to become blocked or collapse as you sleep. Normal breathing starts again with a snort or choking noise.

sleep apnea

People with sleep apnea typically snore loudly. However, not everyone who snores has the condition.

Doctors and dentists diagnose sleep apnea based on various factors. These factors include medical and family histories, a physical exam, and sleep study results. 

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Most people with interrupted sleep feel fatigued during the day. People with sleep apnea are often at an increased risk for dangers such as car crashes, work-related accidents, and other medical issues.

If you have sleep apnea, seeking effective treatment is essential. Lifestyle adjustments, snoring mouthpieces, and breathing devices can help treat sleep apnea.

Causes & Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The following are risk factors for sleep apnea:

  • If you’re overweight
  • If you’re male
  • If you have a family history of sleep apnea
  • If you have a small airway
  • If you have certain medical conditions, including endocrine disorders, neuromuscular disorders, heart or kidney failure, specific genetic syndromes, and premature birth

Children with adenoids or enlarged tonsils are also at an increased risk of sleep apnea.

Common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Snoring, snorting, or gasping during sleep
  • Reduced or absent breathing, called apnea events
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Decreases in attention, concentration, and motor skills
  • Reductions in verbal and visuospatial memory
  • Dry mouth or headaches when waking up
  • Sexual dysfunction or a decreased libido
  • Waking up often during the night

Undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea stops you from having a restful sleep. This disruption can lead to health complications that may affect many areas of your body.

How Can Mouthguards Treat Sleep Apnea?

A sleep apnea mouthguard treats the condition by pushing your lower jaw and tongue forward. This procedure helps to keep your airway open.

Some mouth guards have a strap that wraps around your head and chin to hold your lower jaw in a specific position.

If your dentist prescribes you a mouth guard or another oral appliance for sleep apnea, you should follow up with them after six months and then at least once a year. This schedule helps to see if your mouthpiece is working correctly. Your dentist can check whether your mouthpiece needs adjusting or if a replacement device is required.

Best Mouthguards for Sleep Apnea

When choosing a mouth guard for sleep apnea, one of the essential factors to consider is comfort. Be sure to pick a comfortable oral appliance because it encourages you to wear it as much as possible. In turn, this leads to more effective and noticeable results.

Several anti-snoring mouth guard treatment options work in different ways.

Mandibular Advancement Device

This sleep apnea treatment method is named after the mandible or jaw bone. A mandibular advancement device (MAD) works by temporarily shifting the jaw and tongue forward. This reduces throat constriction and stops sleep apnea and snoring. Moving the tongue forward allows for more airway space.

MADs are available over the counter (OTC), known as boil and bite MADs. These types of MADs are made from soft materials that are flexible when exposed to hot water. Biting down on the soft mold helps to fit the oral appliance.

Some MADs are custom or semi-custom made, produced to fit a specific person’s mouth. Your dentist will take a mold of your teeth and use it to make a mouthguard specifically for the shape of your teeth and mouth. This allows for a much better fit than an OTC sleep apnea mouth guard.

Custom-made mouth guards are often more comfortable than OTC options. They’re also more difficult to accidentally move or dislodge while you sleep. If you experience sleep apnea, teeth grinding, or snoring, a custom-made mouth guard is often an excellent option. While they’re more costly than OTC mouth pieces, many medical or dental insurance plans cover some or all of the fees.

However, one of the most common issues with MAD dental devices is teeth shifting and tooth discomfort. These risks are higher with OTC mouthguards, as your dentist will protect against these problems in a custom professional guard. For people with dental problems, the MAD may not be suitable.

Tongue Retaining Device

Tongue retaining dental devices are mouth guards that hold the tongue in a forward position. This prevents it from blocking the upper airway. Pulling the tongue forward allows for a wider gap between the tongue and the back of the throat. This reduces or stops sleep apnea and snoring.

One of the advantages of the tongue retaining device is that they typically do not lead to jaw discomfort. They are less likely to cause temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMJD) or tooth shifting. For people with dental problems or missing teeth, this oral appliance may be a suitable option.

However, one of the downsides of tongue retaining devices is that some people claim to feel uncomfortable with the tongue's position. This device may also lead to increased salivation.

If you’re still unsure about dental devices for sleep apnea, speak to your dentist for medical advice. They can either work with you to produce a custom mouthguard or recommend an OTC option.

Other Sleep Apnea Treatments

If using a sleep apnea mouth guard or other oral device doesn’t help, your doctor or a sleep specialist may recommend alternative treatment options to help you maintain an open airway during sleep. 

CPAP Machine

A CPAP machine stands for a continuous positive airway pressure machine. A breathing device like a CPAP machine is commonly recommended for sleep apnea patients. A CPAP machine uses a hose and mask or nosepiece to give you constant and steady air pressure.

cpap machine

However, a CPAP machine's side effects sometimes include congestion, runny nose, dry eyes, nosebleeds, or a dry mouth. More severe side effects include stomach discomfort and bloating. If you experience these symptoms, stop using your CPAP machine and speak to your doctor for medical advice. 

Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Your doctor or sleep specialist may suggest making some lifelong healthy lifestyle adjustments to help control or treat sleep apnea. These changes can benefit people experiencing both moderate and severe sleep apnea. These recommendations may include:

  • Eating a healthy balanced diet to protect the heart
  • Limiting your alcohol intake, especially before sleeping
  • Exercising regularly 
  • Aiming for a healthy weight
  • Developing healthy sleeping habits
  • Quitting smoking

Losing weight is incredibly helpful for obese people experiencing sleep apnea. Your doctor may also suggest general healthy sleeping habits, such as sleeping the recommended amount of hours for your age.

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Resources

Sleep apnea, MedlinePlus, July 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/sleepapnea.html 

Sleep apnea, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-apnea 

Jayesh, S Raghavendra, and Wasim Manzoor Bhat., Mandibular advancement device for obstructive sleep apnea: An overview., Journal of pharmacy & bioallied sciences vol. 7,Suppl 1 (2015): S223-5, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439678/

Updated on: October 20, 2020
Author
Ellie Swain
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Lara Coseo
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