3 Ways Oral Appliance Therapy Can Treat Sleep Disorders

It might surprise you to know that your sleep health is connected to your oral health in so many ways that certain dentists specialize in using oral appliance therapy to treat sleep disorders. If you suffer from a sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea or are a loud snorer, wearing an oral appliance might help you get a better night’s sleep and improve your overall health.

First, you are probably asking, what exactly is oral appliance therapy? Well, it is where you wear a custom-fit oral appliance similar to an orthodontic retainer or a sports mouth guard while you are sleeping. It helps keep the jaw in a forward position so that your upper airway remains open.

There are two general types of oral appliances used for sleep disorders: mandibular advancement devices and tongue retaining mouthpieces. Mandibular advancement devices are simply snapped over the upper and lower dental arches. The upper and lower pieces are connected by a metal hinge. Tongue retaining mouthpieces are basically the same except they have an extra piece that fits around the tongue and keeps it in a forward positioned.

Some of the benefits include that these oral appliances are comfortable and easy to wear and to care for. Because they are portable, they are also easy to travel with.

Second, how exactly does oral appliance therapy treat sleep disorders. Sleep disorders exist on a continuum from snoring to the more severe obstructive sleep apnea. When you have sleep apnea, your muscles in your mouth and throat relax causing the soft tissue to collapse and block the airway.

People with sleep apnea tend to have frequent breathing pauses while they sleep which reduces their oxygen levels and wakes them up in the middle of the night disturbing their sleep. In more severe cases, these pauses in breath can lead to death. In milder cases, the concern is more that chronically being sleep-deprived can lead to a host of different health problems if not corrected.

Here are 3 ways oral appliance therapy can treat sleep disorders:

Reduces Symptoms

Because the oral appliance helps keep your airways open, you will suffer less symptoms of your sleep disorder like snoring, and gasping and choking during sleep. You will enjoy less interrupted sleep which means you will wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the day. Sleeping the recommended hours of sleep at night (8 to 9 hours for adults and 10-12 hours for children) will improve your overall health as well.

While many patients diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea are given continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, it is not for everyone. How the CPAP machine works is that air is forced into your airway through tubing attached to a mask that you must wear to bed. The machine can sometimes be too noisy and having to wear a mask to bed can be also be too cumbersome for some. That is why an oral appliance therapy is a safe and effective alternative to CPAP therapy. It can also be used in conjunction with CPAP therapy. It might not work for more severe case of sleep apnea, however.

Stops Snoring

If you have a snoring problem, but your doctor does not diagnose you with sleep apnea, then there is no need for continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, but you can still benefit from an oral appliance which can stop the snoring without the need for a lot of bells and whistles. Both you and your bed partner will get a better night’s sleep when there is no longer loud snoring disturbing the night.

Improves Overall Quality of Life

Study after study has proven that sleep affects so many parts of our lives. Regularly getting a good night sleep not only gives us more energy and sharper focus, but it allows us to make healthier choices about what we eat and drink and how much exercise we get. Sleep, nutrition and exercise are all important factors to living a healthy life.

When sleep apnea is left untreated, it can lead to daytime sleepiness and overall fatigue as well as headaches and even memory loss. It also increases your risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic acid reflux.

Interested in oral appliance therapy? Keep in mind that this isn’t something that you go directly to your dentist for. First, you need to be diagnosed with a sleep disorder by your doctor and then he or she will write you a referral for a dentist who specializes in this type of therapy. Today, there are more than 100 appliances that have FDA clearance and they are covered now by most medical insurance plans.

At your first appointment with the dentist, he or she will do a complete examination of your teeth, jaw, tongue and airway including X-rays and then will recommend certain oral appliances and discuss with you cost and any potential side effects that you should be aware of.

There are some minor drawbacks to oral appliance therapy that you should consider. With it you may experience an increase in salivation, dry mouth and some tooth and jaw discomfort. You may also see some temporary changes in your bite. If you start to experience jaw pain, TMJ symptoms or permanent changes to your bite then you should talk to your dentist about discontinuing the oral appliance therapy.

Have a full conservation weighing the pros and cons with your dentist so that you can make the most educated choice possible.

After you have the appliance fitted and start wearing it, your doctor will probably have you do a sleep study to measure the effectiveness of the therapy. You will also be required to make routine visits to the dentist to have the appliance readjusted as needed and you will need to undergo a yearly assessment to make sure treatment continues to be effective.

When searching for a dentist who specializes in dental sleep medicine look for certification by non-profit organizations like the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine or special designation by the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine.

Interested in learning more about how oral appliance therapy can treat sleep disorders? Contact Orthodontics Limited for a consultation.