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Sleep Apnea Health Center

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Mouth Guard Endorsed for Sleep Apnea

Wearing Device While Sleeping Viewed as Alternative Treatment for Sleep Disorder

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 3, 2006 -- It may look like it belongs on the football field, but a mouth guard-like device may help millions of people (and their mates) who suffer from sleep apnea sleep a bit easier.

An estimated 18 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder caused by an obstructed airway due to the tongue and soft tissues falling into the back of the throat during sleep. This results in short episodes when breathing is stopped. Obstructive sleep apnea leads to excessive daytime sleepiness and has been associated with increased risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart problems, and death.

Although continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most effective treatment available for obstructive sleep apnea, new guidelines recommend the use of oral appliances for the treatment of mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea in people who don't respond to CPAP or have difficulty sticking with the treatment.

CPAP involves wearing a mask attached to a machine that delivers air with increased pressure while you sleep. But researchers say many people find this treatment uncomfortable or intolerable, and an oral device may be an attractive treatment option.

"OSA is a serious, life-threatening condition -- but for many patients, alleviating its effects can be as easy as utilizing an oral appliance at night," says Kent Moore, MD, DDS, president of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, in a news release. "Oral appliances, which resemble sports mouth guards, may control mild to moderate OSA with minimal discomfort or disruption."

Researchers say there are many types of oral appliances that may be used to treat sleep apnea, snoring, or both. When worn during sleep, they help to maintain an open airway by repositioning or stabilizing the lower jaw, tongue, soft palate, or uvula (the fingerlike piece of tissue that hangs down from the soft palate at the back of the mouth).

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are excessive snoring and daytime sleepiness. It is diagnosed with special tests while you sleep, usually in a sleep lab.

The recommendations appear in the February issue of Sleep, the journal of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

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