Sleep apnea mouthpieces are more than just the answer to a good night’s sleep. These dental appliances, also called Mandibular Advancement Devices, are now recommended by The American Academy of Sleep Medicine as treatment for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea results when patients have a blocked (obstructed), or partially blocked airway. During sleep, the muscles in the throat relax and can close the passage of air, just like a flimsy straw in a thick milkshake, the muscles will collapse on the airway. When the blockage interrupts air flow, the body goes without oxygen, sometimes for well over a minute. The patient coughs or makes a snorting or choking sound as the body tries to get air. This episode can occur frequently during the night, 15-30 times per hour in a moderate patient, and more than 30 times per hour in a severe patient. For 8 hours of sleep, that is over 240 times per night.
Patients with sleep apnea can be at risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and worsening glaucoma. This disruptive sleeping pattern effects not only the lifestyle and energy level of the patient, but also the lifestyle and energy level of their bed partner. These patients also report frequently driving while drowsy, which–in a CDC estimate–may have accounted for 6,000 fatal crashes each year.
On average, an adult will show symptoms of sleep apnea for 10 years before they receive treatment. The dental community is in the best position to change this trend. Sleep apnea can leave signs on the teeth much sooner than on the overall health of a patient. Wear on the teeth, cracks, and erosion can all be signs of obstructive sleep apnea or other disordered sleeping habits. A qualified dentist will be able to identify and discuss these findings, often before the patient has the typical signs a physician may see.
The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. For patients that prefer an alternative treatment or suffer from mild-or moderate-sleep apnea, an oral appliance may be the solution. Sleep apnea mouthpieces are compact, durable, easy to transport, nearly invisible to bed partners, and can result in immediate relief. Unlike CPAP machines, these oral appliances do not require an energy source, distilled water, or expensive supplies. They allow active sleepers to move unencumbered by masks and hoses.
What does a sleep apnea mouthpiece do?
Sleep apnea mouthpieces are dental appliances with clear trays that attach over the teeth. The mouthpiece moves the tongue and lower jaw forward to allow for a clear airway with little or no obstruction. There are dozens of types of mouthpieces, and a qualified dentist is trained in helping choose the correct one for you. The construction of each appliance is slightly different to treat the source of the obstruction. Most importantly, a professionally made Mandibular Advancement Device will be adjustable, and can be tested in different positions to determine which position provides the widest airway.
How do I get a sleep apnea mouthpiece?
While snoring devices can be found on the internet, and some patients may indeed stop snoring with them, these devices do not treat sleep apnea. This is equivalent to simply taking the battery out of the fire alarm and ignoring the fire.
Medical professionals recommend a more comprehensive treatment approach, with custom made mouth pieces that are adjustable to find your maximum airflow over time. Custom-made sleep apnea mouthpieces fit securely in the mouth and won’t cause any issues from ill-fitting mouthguards.
The path to a sleep apnea mouthpiece starts with a visit to a qualified dentist, or the primary care physician. Sleep apnea mouthpieces are suitable treatments for patients with mild- to moderate-sleep apnea as a first choice, or for severe apnea patients who cannot tolerate CPAP. Diagnosis must be done with a sleep test in accordance with patient’s health insurance. Sleep tests can be done at home with a small testing unit that can be ordered/provided by the dentist. Based on the information provided by the sleep test, the dentist, in concert with a medical team, can assess your individual need and take the necessary steps to design a custom sleep apnea mouthpiece.
Like any medical intervention, sleep apnea mouthpieces can come with a few unpleasant side effects. Though patients won’t have the dry and itchiness that can results from using a CPAP machine, some patients may experience soreness in the jaw, teeth, or gums. It is always recommended to contact your dentist if you are having any side effects. Though the risk of sleep apnea affecting your heart and overall health greatly outweighs the discomfort of a sleep apnea preventative mouthpiece, your dentist will assess and evaluate your individual side effects and may be able to help improve or alleviate them.
How much does dental sleep apnea treatment cost?
Health insurance may completely or partially cover the cost of the sleep apnea treatment. Treatment for sleep apnea whether by a dentist with a mouthpiece, or by a physician with a CPAP, is covered under health insurance as durable medical equipment. Out of pocket cost of treatment is dependent on an individual’s co-pays, deductibles, coverage limits, etc. Patients should see a qualified dentist to get a pre-authorized estimate, or contact their insurance company to discuss coverage.