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Sleep Apnea: Oral Devices

Topic Overview

Oral devices (also called oral appliances) are sometimes used to treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). They push the tongue and jaw forward, which makes the airway larger and improves airflow. This also reduces the chance that tissue will collapse and narrow the airway when you breathe in. Examples include a mandibular repositioning device (MRD) or a tongue-retaining device.

Oral breathing devices are sometimes a reasonable alternative to continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Although oral breathing devices generally do not work as well as CPAP, they may be considered for people who:footnote 1

  • Have mild or moderate sleep apnea.
  • Prefer not to use or who have failed CPAP treatment.
  • Had surgery that did not work.
  • Tried behavioral changes that did not work.
  • Are at a healthy weight.

Choose a dentist or orthodontist who has experience fitting these devices. And go back to your dentist for regular check-ups to make sure the device still fits well.

Oral breathing devices can improve sleep quality and reduce daytime sleepiness.footnote 2 The use of oral devices reduced the episodes of abnormal breathing in about half of the people who used them.footnote 1

Possible problems with devices that fit inside the mouth include:

  • Buildup of saliva in the mouth, requiring frequent swallowing.
  • Discomfort, especially in the morning. The devices can be uncomfortable, and people tend not to use them over the long term.
  • Damage to teeth, soft tissues in the mouth, and the jaw joints. So it is important that a skilled dentist or orthodontist fit the device to prevent these problems.

If you use an oral breathing device to treat sleep apnea, use it every night. Excess saliva in your mouth and mild discomfort should become less bothersome with regular use.

An oral breathing device used for a child with sleep apnea must be refitted periodically as the child grows.

People who use an oral device for sleep apnea may have a repeat sleep study to make sure it is working well.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Ferguson KA, et al. (2006). Oral appliances for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea: A review. Sleep, 29(2): 244–262.
  2. Hensley M, Ray C (2009). Sleep apnoea, search date May 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

Credits

Current as ofSeptember 5, 2018

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Hasmeena Kathuria, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine