Dental Devices for Sleep Apnea: Do They Really Work?

Do dental devices work for sleep apnea

Feel refreshed and energetic again.

While some animals can go a long time without sleep—dolphins and their mothers, for example, go an entire month without sleeping when the baby is first born—we need regular sleep to stay healthy and happy. If you or your child have sleep apnea, a full night of sleep that leaves you feeling refreshed and energetic might seem more like a fairy tale than an achievable goal, especially if you don’t like the idea of a CPAP machine or you find them uncomfortable.

Thankfully, it really is possible, even without a CPAP machine! For some people, sleep apnea dental appliances can help them get the sleep they need and transform the way they feel every day. To help you understand how these oral appliances could transform your life, we’ve explained obstructive sleep apnea and how your dentist may be able to help.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition characterized by an inability to breathe properly while you sleep. This can happen anywhere between five to 30 times an hour for 10 to 30 seconds at a time. The three types of sleep apnea are differentiated by what causes you to stop breathing in the first place.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type—and the type that your dentist is more likely to be able to help you with. When you fall asleep, your muscles naturally relax. With obstructive sleep apnea, however, the muscles in your throat or tongue relax too much when you fall asleep, causing them to collapse and block your airway.

Each time you stop breathing, your brain needs to rouse you from sleep just enough to allow you to take a breath. You often wake up very briefly, so you likely won’t remember it at all, but it still impacts your sleep patterns by preventing you from reaching the deeper, more restful stages of sleep. The resulting lack of sleep and low oxygen levels can cause a surprisingly wide range of symptoms that are unfortunately often overlooked. These sleep apnea symptoms include:  

  • Loud snoring
  • Making choking or gasping sounds in your sleep
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth in your sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog or inability to concentrate
  • Memory issues
  • Frequent headaches in the morning
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Mood swings
  • Increased anxiety or depression
  • Increased risk of health conditions like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart problems

What dental devices are used to treat sleep apnea, and how do they work?

There are two main types of sleep apnea dental devices. The first and most common is a mandibular advancement device, which is essentially a sleep apnea mouth guard that’s designed to hold your jaw in its ideal position while you sleep. This ideal jaw position allows your jaws to fully relax while keeping your airway as open as possible. It’s different for everyone, so your sleep apnea mouth guard will be designed specifically for you. These mouth guards are designed with comfort in mind, making sure you’ll be able to sleep easily and comfortably through the entire night.

The second type of dental device for sleep apnea is called a tongue retaining device. These devices are less common, but they’re used when your tongue is the main culprit of your sleep apnea by falling backward and blocking your airway when you fall asleep. A tongue retaining device is a splint that holds your tongue in place while you sleep, making it a simple but effective way of keeping your airway open all night. 

What are the pros and cons of using sleep apnea dental appliances?

Treating sleep apnea with dental appliances has several pros and cons, all of which are wise to consider. For many people, the biggest pro is that these oral appliances are compact and comfortable. The mask and wires that CPAP machines require make them uncomfortable for many people and limit what positions you can sleep in, and many people find the air that’s pushed through the mask to keep their airway open uncomfortable as well.

Oral appliances eliminate these wires and allow you to sleep in any position you want, so many people find them much more comfortable. CPAP machines typically require quite a bit of maintenance as well, and while you do need to clean your mouth guard regularly, it’s generally a quick and easy process—just as simple as cleaning any other mouth guard or retainer. Plus, the small, compact nature of these devices also makes them a lot easier to travel with them. CPAP machines are much smaller than they used to be, but if you do a lot of traveling, you’ll likely have to buy a travel-sized CPAP to take with you on your travels, which can get expensive.

The small, compact nature of these oral appliances is nice in many ways, but it is also one of their greatest weaknesses. It’s hard to lose your CPAP machine, but it’s considerably easier to lose your oral appliance. Additionally, while these oral appliances are designed for comfort, they can cause your jaws to become sore, especially when you’re first adjusting to them.

The biggest downside, however, is that these oral appliances don’t work for everyone. They can provide relief for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea, but they likely won’t be enough for more severe cases. It’s always wise to consult your sleep apnea specialist before deciding to try them. If you’re still experiencing symptoms or an increase in your symptoms despite using a dental appliance, it may be time to consider other treatment options.

Wake up feeling energized with the help of sleep apnea dental devices. 

Getting enough sleep is essential for our physical and mental health; it helps us feel well rested, energetic, and positive. Even with sleep apnea, this kind of rest isn’t out of reach! An oral appliance might be the key to getting the restful sleep you need without resorting to a CPAP machine, helping you sleep comfortably and wake up with the energy and positivity you need for each new day! If you’d like to learn more about sleep apnea dental appliances and whether or not they could help you, feel free to schedule an appointment with us at any time.