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Mouth Devices for Sleep Apnea

If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea -- a condition in which relaxation of the muscles around the tongue and throat causes the tissues to block airflow to the lungs while you sleep -- there are a number of treatment options to discuss with your doctor. Two of the most widely used and most effective are continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and dental appliances, or mouth guards.

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)

The most effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, CPAP blows air down your throat at night to keep your airways open while you sleep. The treatment is done using a CPAP machine, which consists of three main parts:

  • Mask that fits over your nose -- or your nose and mouth -- and is held in place with straps while you sleep
  • Motor that blows air
  • Large tube called a cannula that connects the motor to the mask

CPAP machines are small, lightweight, and fairly quiet. If you travel, you should take your CPAP with you.

Benefits of CPAP include keeping your airways open while you sleep, easing snoring, improving sleep quality, relieving daytime sleepiness, and lowering blood pressure.

Although you will likely feel better rested and alert once you start CPAP, getting used to the device can take some time. Some people have difficulty sleeping the first few nights of treatment.

Side effects of CPAP use are minor and may include:

  • Feelings of confinement from the face mask
  • Sore or dry mouth
  • Nasal congestion, runny nose, sinusitis, or nosebleeds
  • Irritation and sores over the bridge of the nose
  • Stomach bloating and discomfort
  • Discomfort in chest muscles, which usually gets better after a while

If you are having any of these or other problems, speak to your doctor. An adjustment to your CPAP machine may make it more comfortable. Some CPAP machines have special features such as heated humidifiers to reduce problems such as drying of the airways. Other possible fixes include using a cushioned face mask, chin straps, and nasal saltwater sprays. Your doctor may have additional suggestions.

Mouth Devices

If you have mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea and can't tolerate or haven't been helped by CPAP, oral appliances may be an effective treatment option.

These devices, which must be fitted by a dentist or orthodontist, and worn in the mouth at night include:

Mandibular advancement device (MAD). The most widely used mouth device for sleep apnea, MADs look much like a mouth guard used in sports. The devices snap over the upper and lower dental arches and have metal hinges that make it possible for the lower jaw to be eased forward. Some, such as the Thornton Adjustable Positioner (TAP), allow you to control the degree of advancement. 

Tongue retaining device. Used less commonly than MAD, this device is a splint that holds the tongue in place to keep the airway open.

WebMD Medical Reference

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