Dental devices are designed to open the airway so that patients can breathe more easily at night. They are custom-made by dentists with specific expertise in sleep medicine. These devices are a good alternative for sleep apnea patients with claustrophobia or CPAP intolerance. While dental devices are not as effective as CPAP, they are often easier to use. Dozens of dental devices are available to treat obstructive sleep apnea and most fall into one of two types. Some are FDA-approved to treat snoring only, and some are approved to treat obstructive sleep apnea as well. A follow-up sleep study is recommended to confirm that the device is effective.
The type of dental device most commonly used for obstructive sleep apnea is called a mandibular advancement device (MAD). The device looks similar to the mouth guards that athletes wear. It moves the lower jaw slightly down and forward, which may help hold the airway open. Worn at night, the device widens the throat and increases the size of the airway.
Another kind of dental device is a tongue-retaining device or splint, which holds the tongue in a forward position that lets the airway remain open.
Dental devices should be fitted by dentists. It may take several weeks to get used to the device. Many find them comfortable for sleeping.
A dental device may cause pain at the temporomandibular joint, where your jaw attaches to your skull, and can damage your teeth, gums, or jaw; be sure to follow up with your dentist, who can look for any side effects.