Sleep apnea affects millions of people worldwide. The condition can lead to serious health complications, including heart disease and stroke. Traditionally, sleep apnea treatments have included CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines. However, many patients find these machines uncomfortable or difficult to tolerate. Fortunately, there are now more options available for treating sleep apnea. One of the most promising non-invasive treatment alternatives is the use of custom dental guards.
Here, we discuss how night guards for sleep apnea work and their benefits:
What is sleep apnea?
Before diving into the solution, it's crucial to understand the problem. Sleep apnea is characterized by temporary interruptions in breathing during sleep. There are three types: central sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and complex sleep apnea syndrome. OSA, the most common form, occurs when the throat muscles relax excessively during sleep, obstructing the airway.
Traditional treatment: the CPAP machine
CPAP machines have long been the gold standard for sleep apnea treatment. They deliver a steady flow of air to prevent the collapse of the airway during sleep. While effective, they come with challenges:
- Discomfort from wearing the mask.
- Noise from the machine.
- Portability issues for travelers.
- Skin irritation and dryness.
How can custom dental guards help?
Dental guards, also known as oral appliances or mandibular advancement devices (MADs), are emerging as a viable alternative to CPAP machines. They are custom-made to fit each patient and are designed to keep the airway open.
Custom dental guards work by repositioning the lower jaw and tongue slightly forward. This movement increases the size of the upper airway, reducing the air resistance that leads to sleep apnea in OSA patients.
The science behind dental guards
Understanding the science behind how dental guards work can provide insight into their effectiveness. During an episode of obstructive sleep apnea, the tongue and muscles of the throat collapse, narrowing or closing the airway. This causes a cessation of breathing. By advancing the mandible (lower jaw), dental guards make the tongue and muscles move forward, increasing the space at the back of the throat. This significantly reduces the chance of airway obstruction.
Benefits of dental guards
- Comfort:Unlike bulky CPAP masks, dental guards are more comfortable to wear. They fit in the mouth similarly to orthodontic retainers or sports mouth guards.
- Portability:For frequent travelers, lugging around a CPAP machine can be cumbersome. Dental guards are small, lightweight, and easy to transport.
- Quiet:Unlike the humming of CPAP machines, dental guards are silent, allowing both the user and their partner a noise-free sleep.
- Simple maintenance:Dental guards can be easily cleaned with toothpaste and a toothbrush, making the daily maintenance hassle-free.
Who can benefit from dental guards?
Dental guards are most effective for patients with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. However, even those with severe OSA who can't tolerate CPAP might find relief with a dental guard.
Adjusting to dental guards
There can be an adjustment period when first using a dental guard:
- Initial discomfort can be common, but as the mouth and jaw get accustomed to the device, this usually lessens.
- Some patients may produce more saliva at the beginning, but this typically resolves with continued use.
- There can be minor changes in bite after removing the device in the morning. Doing a few jaw exercises or wearing a morning aligner can help reset the bite.
While dental guards offer numerous advantages, there are potential drawbacks to consider:
- Some people may experience jaw discomfort or bite changes.
- They might not be as effective as CPAP for severe OSA.
The longevity of dental guards
With proper care, a dental guard can last several years. However, as with all dental devices, wear and tear can occur. It's vital to regularly check the guard for signs of damage and replace it when necessary.
As with any medical condition, it's vital to explore all available treatment options. If you've been diagnosed with sleep apnea and are looking for an alternative to the CPAP machine, consider custom dental guards. They offer a non-invasive, comfortable, and effective solution for many.
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A night guard does watch over your teeth while you sleep — it’s a dental device that offers a protective barrier between your upper and lower teeth and can help reduce the negative effects of bruxism.
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