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Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea: An Effective Treatment Option

2 July 2024

Sleep apnea is a common but serious sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep, sleep apnea can lead to a variety of health problems if left untreated, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and daytime fatigue. While Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines are the most well-known treatment, many patients find them uncomfortable and difficult to use. For these individuals, oral appliances offer a promising alternative.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea comes in two main types: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). OSA, the more common form, occurs when the throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep. CSA happens when the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

What Are Oral Appliances?

Oral appliances are devices worn in the mouth during sleep to help maintain an open, unobstructed airway. They are custom-made by dentists or orthodontists and resemble mouthguards or orthodontic retainers. The two main types of oral appliances used to treat sleep apnea are Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs) and Tongue Retaining Devices (TRDs).

Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs)

MADs work by repositioning the lower jaw (mandible) slightly forward, which helps keep the airway open by preventing the tongue and soft tissues in the back of the throat from collapsing. These devices are adjustable, allowing the dentist to find the most effective and comfortable position for the patient.

Advantages of MADs:

  • Custom-fitted for comfort
  • Adjustable to individual needs
  • Portable and easy to travel with
  • Non-invasive compared to CPAP machines

Disadvantages of MADs:

  • Potential for jaw pain or discomfort
  • May cause changes in bite or tooth movement over time
  • Not suitable for severe cases of sleep apnea

Tongue Retaining Devices (TRDs)

TRDs are designed to hold the tongue in a forward position using a suction mechanism, preventing it from collapsing backward and obstructing the airway. Unlike MADs, TRDs do not adjust the position of the jaw.

Advantages of TRDs:

  • Simple design and easy to use
  • No adjustment needed
  • Effective for individuals with a large tongue or who cannot tolerate MADs

Disadvantages of TRDs:

  • Can cause discomfort or soreness in the tongue
  • May be less comfortable than MADs for some users
  • Not as widely used or studied as MADs

Benefits of Oral Appliances

Oral appliances offer several benefits for individuals with mild to moderate sleep apnea or those who cannot tolerate CPAP therapy:

  • Improved Comfort: Many patients find oral appliances more comfortable and easier to use than CPAP machines, leading to better compliance and consistent use.
  • Portability: Oral appliances are small, lightweight, and easy to carry, making them ideal for travel.
  • Non-Invasive: Unlike CPAP machines that require a mask and tubing, oral appliances are non-invasive and do not require electricity or significant maintenance.
  • Customization: Oral appliances are custom-made to fit each patient’s mouth, ensuring a better fit and increased effectiveness.

Getting an Oral Appliance

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, it’s important to undergo a proper diagnosis, which typically involves a sleep study conducted by a healthcare professional. Once diagnosed, your doctor can refer you to a dentist or orthodontist who specializes in sleep apnea treatment with oral appliances.

The process of getting an oral appliance involves several steps:

  1. Consultation: The dentist will evaluate your condition, review your medical history, and discuss your treatment options.
  2. Impressions: Custom molds of your teeth are taken to create a precise fit for the oral appliance.
  3. Fitting: Once the appliance is ready, the dentist will adjust it to ensure comfort and effectiveness.
  4. Follow-Up: Regular follow-up visits are necessary to monitor your progress, make adjustments, and address any issues that arise.


Oral appliances provide a valuable alternative for treating sleep apnea, particularly for those who find CPAP machines uncomfortable or impractical. With the ability to improve sleep quality, reduce health risks, and enhance overall well-being, these devices represent a significant advancement in sleep apnea treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with sleep apnea, consider exploring the option of oral appliances as a comfortable and effective solution.

By understanding the different types of oral appliances and their benefits, you can make an informed decision about your sleep apnea treatment and work towards achieving better sleep and health.

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