Oral appliances are sometimes prescribed to help a patient who is suffering from sleep apnea. These products are generally recommended when the patient has obstructive sleep apnea, which is a specific type of sleep apnea in which breathing problems are caused by a partial or complete obstruction in the upper airway. This blocks the flow of oxygen coming in and may cause a number of sleep apnea symptoms, like snoring, daytime fatigue and gasping, choking or jerking awake while sleeping. Oral appliances help with this condition by moving the jaw or tongue into a position which helps to keep the upper airway open so the patient can breathe easily and enjoy more restful sleep.
There are two main types of oral appliances for sleep apnea. Mandibular advancement devices, also known as MADs, appear similar to orthodontic retainers or sports mouth guards. The MAD is fitted over the upper and lower teeth, then connected by a metal hinge. This hinge helps to push the lower jaw forward to keep the airway open. The second type of device is a tongue retaining mouthpiece, which looks like a MAD but also includes a small piece to fit around the tongue to keep it held forward. Both of these oral appliances are custom-fitted to the patient to ensure the best results.
One major benefit of using an oral appliance is that it may be a suitable treatment on its own without the need for a CPAP machine. This is less invasive, more comfortable and more convenient for those who are trying to manage their sleep apnea. However, some people experience jaw pain, soreness or excessive salivation when using oral appliances, and usually patients find the oral appliances are less effective than CPAP machines, so it’s important to find one that works for you. Talk to your doctor if you think an oral appliance may help with your quality of sleep.