sleep foundation
The National Sleep Foundation

Medically Reviewed by

The National Sleep Foundation

Written by

The National Sleep Foundation

It may seem strange to consult a dentist about sleep trouble, but oral appliances (dental devices) aren’t just used to protect or straighten the teeth—they are also prescribed for a variety of sleep issues. Read on to find out whether using one might help you get rid of your sleep problem and improve your zzz’s.

What they are: An oral appliance for sleep looks similar to a sports mouth guard or orthodontic retainer, except it is worn only during sleep. The device pushes the jaw forward to help open up the airways. 

Who needs them: Sometimes they are recommended for people who snore. Other times, people who suffer from bruxism (tooth grinding) can find them to be helpful. Also, some sleep apnea patients may want to consider using them. A mask-like treatment called continuous airway pressure therapy (CPAP) is often prescribed for sleep apnea, and sometimes for snoring. The mask, which blows air into the airways to keep them open, is worn in bed. However, some people can’t tolerate wearing the mask or find that it makes it even more difficult to fall asleep. In these cases, or for mild cases of sleep apnea, a doctor may prescribe an oral appliance.

What you can expect: If you’re prescribed an oral device, your dentist will create a custom-made appliance that is molded to your teeth. Your dentist will adjust the device to help make it as comfortable as possible, and will teach you the proper way to wear and clean the device.While oral appliances may not be as effective as CPAP at reducing sleep apnea or snoring, people tend to prefer using a dental device, and the side effects tend to be minimal (you may notice that you produce extra saliva or experience teeth discomfort). With continuous wear, snoring, bruxism, and sleep apnea should improve.