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February 5, 2019

How does a custom mouthguard help with sleep apnea?

If you are a habitually loud and frequent snorer or are looking for a method to treat obstructive sleep apnea, a custom mouthguard can be a less invasive, highly effective solution. Custom mouthguards (also called “oral appliances”) can help alleviate sleep apnea symptoms.

What is a custom mouthguard?

A custom mouthguard is a device made by a dentist to help reduce snoring and relieve obstructive sleep apnea. Wearing a custom mouthguard that is specifically designed to reduce symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea can be a powerful method of achieving greater sleep health. Other designs of custom mouthguards may protect your teeth from grinding or clenching while you sleep or from injuries while you play sports, but they don’t have the same function as those that help you breathe during sleep.

Why consider a custom mouthguard?

Custom mouthguards have been shown to be an effective treatment for people with sleep apnea in numerous clinical studies. Due to their relative comfort, mouth guards also tend to be more consistently used, giving them what doctors call a better adherence rate.  Many sleep apnea patients find their mouthguard comfortable, easy to wear, and convenient for travel because of the compact size. They are also considerably smaller, less invasive, and far quieter than a CPAP machine.

How do mouthguards work?

There are currently over 100 mouthguards that have received clearance from the FDA. There are two main types: mandibular repositioning devices and tongue retaining devices. Mandibular repositioning devices reposition your lower jaw so that it sits forward and slightly down, keeping your respiratory pathway open as you sleep. This is the most common type of mouthguard. Tongue retaining devices help keep your tongue in place so that it does not fall back into your airway.

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The process of getting a custom mouth guard for sleep apnea

The first thing to do if you are curious about a custom mouthguard as a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea  is to visit a sleep dentist. A sleep dentist will perform an examination of your oral cavity, including your throat, tongue, jaw, and teeth. In addition to this examination, they may also choose to take an x-ray of your airway.

A sleep dentist can learn a lot about you from this examination. For example, if you grind your teeth at night, or if the shape of your airway or septum gives you a higher likelihood of having sleep-disordered breathing, a sleep dentist will notice. A sleep dentist cannot make a formal diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea, but will be able to refer you to a doctor specializing in sleep via their own network.

This brings us to the next step: a visit to a physician who specializes in sleep medicine.You and the sleep physician can discuss your situation further, and if you decide that an oral appliance is the way to go, then your doctor will write a prescription for a custom-made mouthguard. Most medical insurance providers cover part of the cost of custom mouthguards. Your sleep dentist’s office can discuss how they coordinate with your medical insurance benefit plan.

In order for your dentist to make a mouthguard that is just right for you, a custom mold of your teeth must be made. If you have ever had a mold of your teeth made for braces or a mouthguard for sports, it is the same kind of procedure. Many dentists are taking digital impressions with specialized equipment. This method is highly accurate, fast, and avoids the “tray with goop” part of making the custom mouthguard. The mold or the digital impression is then sent to a special dental lab where the appliance is fabricated.

Beware of cheap imitations

You may have seen “boil-and-bite” style devices sold online or in drugstores. These are inexpensive molds that set out to replicate what an oral appliance prescribed by medical professionals was designed to do.

Don’t fall for the marketing of these imitations, as tossing a generic mold in a pot of boiling water to soften and make a copy of your bite does not compare to FDA-cleared appliances delivered under the care of a professional sleep dentist. Something cheap and easy may seem appealing, however many of these devices are not built or fitted well, and some can even make your breathing worse.

Sleep dentistry is best left to professionals. If you are curious about how a custom mouthguard may be able to help with your snoring or sleep apnea symptoms, consult a sleep dentist in your area.