For those with obstructive sleep apnea who wish to avoid surgery and/or can’t stand wearing a face mask at night for a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device, one major alternative is an oral appliance, also commonly called a dental device.
Oral appliances range from those bought off the shelf and fashioned at home to fit properly to specially tailored devices fitted by a dentist or sleep professional, and naturally, the prices range accordingly. However, an oral appliance is also one of the least expensive alternatives to CPAP and/or surgery and will sometimes do the trick when budgets are restricted.
How Oral Appliances Work
One device is fashioned to depress the tongue (generally when the tongue is too large and blocking the air passage). This device keeps the tongue snug to the lower jaw during sleep to open up the airway.
Another device, depending on need (when, for instance, the tongue isn’t the culprit), is designed to move the lower jaw forward to create a better passage for air to flow through the mouth. This unit is referred to as a mandibular re-positioning device (MRD).
These devices generally should help with one’s sleeping and reduce symptoms from sleep apnea, such as daytime fatigue and lack of focus.
However, if the problem causing the sleep apnea is one’s soft palate blocking the airway, these devices might not be the best solution, though they still will provide at least partial benefits, which might prove to be sufficient in many cases.
Over the Counter vs. Custom Dental Devices
The off-the-shelf devices, which can run $100 more or less, are not built to the contours of your jaw and mouth, needless to say, so they may or may not provide the relief you seek. They often come with instructions to soften the upper and lower units in hot water and then place them firmly between your teeth to mold to your particular mouth and jaw pattern. They often look and feel like elaborate retainers that one would wear after having one’s teeth straightened, though their purpose is much different.
Custom devices fitted by dentists and sleep professionals begin with a plaster mold between taken of your upper and lower teeth, and from these molds, the device can be manufactured to fit your particular features, guaranteeing a better fit and better results in the bargain.
Oral appliances are often called the first line of defense against sleep apnea because of their affordability and ease of use. They aren’t, for instance, as cumbersome or obstructive as a CPAP mask. They fit gently around the teeth, and as mentioned, feel much like retainers, making them easy to get used to.
The downside is that oral appliances may not be enough to correct the causes of your sleep apnea or totally cure your symptoms, especially if your condition is considered beyond moderate.
Everything begins, of course, with seeing a sleep professional, getting an evaluation and discussing your options. From there, the best strategy can be ascertained depending on your personal circumstances.