Sleep Apnea Mouthpieces & Dental Devices: An In-Depth Guide


Written by Rebecca Levi

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Mouth guards can be used to treat a variety of sleep issues, including teeth grinding, snoring, and even sleep apnea. Dental devices made for sleep apnea are custom made by dentists using a plastic-like mold to form the specific shape of the patient’s teeth and mouth. Not only do they help with sleep apnea symptoms, but can drastically improve the quality of your sleep.

How Do Sleep Apnea Mouth Guards Work?

Most sleep apnea mouth guards work by moving the jaw forward, thus increasing the size of the upper airway and reducing the air resistance that leads to sleep apnea. There are two main types of oral devices:

  • Mandibular advancement device (MAD): These sleep apnea mouth guards keep the lower jaw into a forward position. However, some MADs have two connected pieces that fit over both the upper and lower dental arches – these allow for more jaw movement and are typically more comfortable
  • Tongue retaining devices (TRD): Another type of sleep apnea mouth guard, these devices use a splint to keep the tongue in a forward position and prevent it from blocking the airway.

How Effective Are Sleep Apnea Mouth Guards?

Although CPAP is the most popular sleep apnea treatment, dental appliances are becoming more common treatments for mild to moderate sleep apnea and snoring. Compared to CPAP, they are more cost-expensive and less invasive. 

Sleep apnea mouth guards are not suitable for all patients. They are generally more effective in mild to moderate sleep apnea cases, although they may be recommended to patients with severe sleep apnea who cannot tolerate CPAP

It is important to work with your doctor to determine whether this treatment would be right for you. Even after you have received your sleep apnea mouth guard, your doctor may request a sleep study to determine if it is effective. Follow-up care is imperative to ensure that you are getting the right treatment.

Benefits of Mouth Guard for Sleep Apnea

When used consistently and under the guidance of your doctor, you may experience many benefits from your sleep apnea mouth guard. Most patients see an improvement to their sleep quality after the first night of use. And because sleep apnea mouth guards are easy to use, there is a higher rate of compliance compared to other treatments for sleep apnea.

Other benefits of oral devices for sleep apnea include:

  • Convenience 
  • Discreteness 
  • Energy conservation
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Disadvantages of Mouth Guard for Sleep Apnea

Some sleep apnea patients who use sleep apnea mouth guards experience temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction or pain. Others report an unusual sensation shortly after removing the device in which they have difficulty bringing their teeth together in the usual position. Some patients experience teeth shifting after prolonged use and may need orthodontic care to normalize the teeth positioning.

Another reported problem with sleep apnea mouth guards is that they have a limited life expectancy. Many are only effective for a year or two before the materials weaken and the appliances lose efficacy. If you choose to use an oral device for sleep apnea, you will probably have to replace it regularly.

Getting a Mouth Guard for Sleep Apnea

The first step to getting any sleep apnea treatment is talking to your doctor. You may be a candidate for certain sleep therapies while others may be excluded because of your medical history or anatomy. You may be asked to undergo a sleep study or test for sleep apnea at home. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you and your doctor can discuss treatment options.

If a dental device is indicated, you will be referred to a dentist who specializes in the treatment of sleep apnea. The dentist usually takes an impression of your teeth bite to create a model. Your sleep apnea mouth guard will be designed using this model so that it fits your teeth and mouth perfectly.

Although there are businesses that sell sleep apnea mouth guards on the internet, it is important that your sleep physician, primary care doctor, and/or dentist approve the appliance. Oral appliances are intended to reduce sleep disruptions and improve sleep quality, so make sure your mouth guard fits comfortably and is right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mouth Guards

I need a prescription for a sleep apnea mouth guard?

While there are a variety to choose from online that can be purchased without prescription, people with sleep apnea should work closely with their doctor or dentist when considering a sleep apnea mouth guard. 

How much do sleep apnea mouth guards cost?

The cost can depend on several factors. The average cost for a sleep apnea mouth guard is estimated at $1800 – $2000. This includes the actual sleep apnea mouth guard, dentist visits, adjustments, follow-ups, and modifications to the dental device. Most health insurance companies and Medicare cover oral devices for sleep apnea.

How often should I clean my mouth guard?

Users should clean their sleep apnea mouth guard often – ideally making it a part of their daily, personal hygiene routine. Use a simple cleaning solution and brush, then rinse and dry in an open space.

About The Author

Rebecca Levi

Staff Writer, Sleep Health

With a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Indiana University Bloomington, Rebecca enjoys making accurate, up-to-date health information accessible to all readers. As a freelance writer and editor, she has covered everything from healthcare and experimental music to education. Rebecca lives in Tennessee, where she spends her free time reading, writing fiction, and making music.

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