Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by repetitive pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses can occur several times per hour and last for over 10 seconds each. Consequently, the sleeper moves out of a deep sleep and usually wakes up. You may wake up physically several times in the night and not even be aware of it consciously. There are different types of sleep apnea, each with their own causes, symptoms, and treatments. Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition. If untreated, it sometimes leads to heart disease and stroke.


Diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea


For diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea, start with your doctor. After discussing your symptoms with your doctor, a sleep study might be the next step. Following the sleep study, your doctor has needed information to discuss treatment options. Investigate the ones that best match your symptoms, your medical history, and your anatomy.


Surgery sometimes resolves sleep apnea. This approach is expensive and invasive. A CPAP mask is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. the mask is certainly less invasive and less expensive than surgery.  A CPAP is a mask the patient wears connected to an oxygen machine. They can be loud, uncomfortable, require electricity, and can be clumsy and unpleasant to look at for your partner.


An alternative from your dentist


An alternative to the CPAP can come from your dentist! A mouthpiece can help alleviate the causes of sleep apnea and might help to prevent it. Most of these mouthpieces work by adjusting the jaw and moving it forward.


Your dentist might refer to these mouthpieces as jaw advancing devices (JAD) or mandibular advancement devices (MAD). The mouthpieces increase the opening size of the upper airway.  Consequently, this reduces the air resistance that otherwise leads to snoring or sleep apnea.

Some of these devices allow the user to adjust the degree of jaw movement and therefore the adjustment to the airway. One example is called a Thornton Adjustable Positioner (TAP).


Another type of mouthpiece available for treating the symptoms of sleep apnea are tongue retaining devices. Sometimes the patient’s tongue falls during sleep and blocks part of the airway. These devices hold the tongue in place so that it does not block the airway.


The advantages and disadvantages to oral mouthpieces


Oral mouthpieces have many advantages. On the positive side, they are less expensive and less invasive than either surgery or CPAP. They are very simple to use and convenient. They are discreet. There is no necessity for electricity, they are, therefore, portable for any situation, preserves energy, and conserves energy costs.


On the negative side, oral devices can be painful over time and may even cause TMJ or arthritis in the jaw. TMJ can lead to migraine headaches. Oral devices may also cause shifting of the teeth over time and eventually lead to the need for orthodontic care.  Use of an oral device cannot be monitored the way a CPAP can. A CPAP has technology that tracks the hours of use and how effective it is.


Oral devices do not last as long as a CPAP machine. Therefore, they may need replacing after a year or two. Your dentist will need to check it regularly in order to ensure that it is free of damage. In addition, a new sleep study can help monitor its effectiveness.


Another point to remember is that sleep apnea mouthpieces are not suitable for all patients. They are generally more effective in mild to moderate sleep apnea cases. However, they may be recommended to patients with severe sleep apnea who cannot tolerate a CPAP. It is important to work with your doctor to determine whether this treatment would be right for you.

Consider the options that will work best for you


If your doctor recommends or approves a mouthpiece, the next step is reaching out to a dentist. This is where Danville Family Dentistry can help! In addition to helping you and your children have a smile to be proud of, we can also help you have the restful sleep you deserve! Contact us today!


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Disclaimer: The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.