More than 18 million adults have sleep apnea—a serious condition where breathing is interrupted throughout the night, raising the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and mood problems. But the good news is that there are ways to treat the condition. While using a CPAP machine is a popular treatment for sleep apnea, it isn’t the only option. Oral appliance therapy may also help improve symptoms, sleep quality, and overall health.
An oral appliance looks like a cross between a mouth guard (there are plastic molds that fit over the teeth) and a retainer (it holds the mouth in a specific position). How does this help treat sleep apnea? The appliance holds the jaw slightly more forward and down than normal, which keeps the upper airway open, reduces snoring, and helps a person breathe freely through the night.
There are some pros and cons to oral appliance therapy. The device can be a lot more comfortable than a CPAP machine, meaning a person is likelier to stick with it over the long term. It’s also easy to travel with the device and it can be less expensive than a CPAP machine. That said, oral appliance therapy can’t help with every case of sleep apnea—it is better suited for more mild symptoms. A CPAP machine might still be needed for severe cases.
Your doctor will be able to tell you whether oral appliance therapy can help with your sleep apnea and if you’re a good candidate, a dentist can custom fit one to your mouth.