Oral devices (also called oral appliances) are sometimes used to treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). They push the tongue and jaw forward, which makes the airway larger and improves airflow. This also reduces the chance that tissue will collapse and narrow the airway when you breathe in. Examples include a mandibular repositioning device (MRD) or a tongue-retaining device.
Oral breathing devices are sometimes a reasonable alternative to continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Although oral breathing devices generally do not work as well as CPAP, they may be considered for people who:1
- Have mild or moderate sleep apnea.
- Prefer not to use or who have failed CPAP treatment.
- Had surgery that did not work.
- Tried behavioral changes that did not work.
- Are at a healthy weight.
Possible problems with devices that fit inside the mouth include:
- Buildup of saliva in the mouth, requiring frequent swallowing.
- Discomfort, especially in the morning. The devices can be uncomfortable, and people tend not to use them over the long term.
- Damage to teeth, soft tissues in the mouth, and the jaw joints. So it is important that a skilled dentist or orthodontist fit the device to prevent these problems.
An oral breathing device used for a child with sleep apnea must be refitted periodically as the child grows.