Do You Need Oral Appliances for Sleeping?

If you struggle with sleeping at night or feel completely drained during the day because of sleep apnea, snoring, or temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD), oral appliances are safe, effective, and quiet treatment options.

It’s time to finally get the restful, quality sleep night after night that you have been (day)dreaming of. Here’s what an oral appliance is and why you may need one for sleeping.

What is an oral appliance and what does it do?

Also called a mandibular splint or mandibular advancement splint, it is a custom-fit medical device similar in appearance to a mouth guard. It is prescribed by your dentist or doctor to treat sleep-related breathing disorders such as sleep apnea, snoring, and TMD.

Unlike mouth guards which protect teeth from impact or grinding, oral appliances work by positioning the jaw in a forward position to keep the airway open during sleep.

Snoring occurs when the tongue falls to the back of the throat obstructing the airway. As air attempts to push past it vibrates the surrounding soft tissue creating sound. And you guessed it, that sound is snoring! If you snore it doesn’t necessarily mean you have sleep apnea. Snoring is just one side effect of the condition. Other side effects are morning headaches, waking up gasping for air, a sudden stop in breathing while asleep, exhaustion, and sleeping with an open mouth.

Sleep apnea can also occur when your airway is blocked by the surrounding soft tissues in your throat. But with sleep apnea the blockage is severe enough to cause shallow breathing or breathing that stops altogether.

Why you may need oral appliances for sleeping

Both snoring and sleep apnea can greatly impact your quality of sleep. If you have a partner, their sleep may also be interrupted by these conditions—though they may be able to cope with a pair of ear plugs!

For those who suffer from snoring and sleep apnea, the effect on sleep is more serious than a disruptive noise at night. The constant obstruction to breathing during sleep drastically reduces the oxygen supply your body requires to power proper cell function. A lack of oxygen inhibits your body’s ability to heal and rebuild during the critical hours of rest that sleep provides us. This can lead to health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Between 30% and 50% of those who have been prescribed a CPAP machine as sleep apnea therapy will stop using the device. Many users complain that it is too difficult to adjust to the noise, mask, and new sleep position. These users may find oral appliances far more comfortable, convenient, and certainly more quiet than CPAP machines.

By opening up the airways, oral appliances help patients to breathe properly throughout the night, have a more restful sleep, and receive an ample supply of oxygen. With consistent use, patients find that their overall health improves as does their energy levels. And their partners no longer need to keep a stash of ear plugs in their bedside drawer.

An oral appliance can also help to relieve TMD. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMD, affects the joint and surrounding muscles in your jaw causing headaches, popping, clicking, grating, and difficulty opening or closing your mouth. It can be used to gradually move the jaw forward into realignment and reduce the amount of pressure put on the joints.

Getting Fit for Your Oral Appliance

After determining that you are a good candidate for it, your dentist will take an impression of your bite. This impression is sent off to the lab to be used as precise measurements for the fabrication of your custom appliance.

Once the final product has been made you will come in to your dentist’s office for a final fitting. Minor tweaks are made to the device for a virtually perfect fit. Your dental team will also teach you how to properly use your new device and keep it clean.

You may find the first few nights are slightly uncomfortable as you adjust to the new positioning of your jaw. As a part of your treatment plan, you may need to schedule a sleep study as a follow up to ensure the effectiveness of your new device. You will also be asked to bring your device with you to routine dental exams to maintain a proper fit.

Unlike other dental treatments, oral appliance therapy is often covered by medical insurance plans. Check with each of your insurance plans to compare what coverage can look like for you.