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Do you find yourself keeping your partner—or even yourself—up at night with loud snoring? It may be more than just a nuisance. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects approximately 25% of men and nearly 10% of women, causing explosive snores, grunts, and gasps. This serious sleep disorder occurs when the tissue at the back of the throat temporarily obstructs the airway, leading to breathing pauses throughout the night. OSA not only leaves individuals tired and groggy but also puts them at risk for various health problems, including high blood pressure, depression, and heart disease.
While positive airway pressure (PAP) remains the most effective and extensively studied treatment for sleep apnea, some people with mild or moderate OSA struggle to adhere to it and seek alternatives. Enter dental devices, also known as oral appliances. However, before embarking on this path, it’s essential to do your homework, as advised by Dr. Sogol Javaheri, a sleep specialist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Who Might Benefit from a Dental Device for Sleep Apnea?
“These devices aim to reposition your jaw or tongue, thereby opening your upper airway. However, they can be uncomfortable and only work about half the time,” warns Dr. Javaheri. It’s challenging to predict who might benefit from using an oral device, and individuals with very mild OSA and minimal symptoms may not notice any significant difference. Consequently, Dr. Javaheri generally doesn’t recommend them except for those with mild to moderate OSA or individuals with severe OSA who cannot tolerate PAP.
Three Main Categories of Dental Devices for OSA
Mandibular Advancement Devices
Made of molded hard plastic, mandibular advancement devices snap over both your lower and upper teeth. They feature metal hinges and screws that can be tightened to push your lower jaw forward. While some dentists create custom mandibular advancement devices, it’s crucial to ensure that your dentist possesses experience in sleep-related breathing disorders and is certified by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Unfortunately, certain non-certified dentists merely take a mold of your teeth, send it to a device manufacturing company, and sell the device to you at a significantly higher price—sometimes exceeding $4,000. Additionally, if the device is used for snoring, it’s unlikely to be covered by dental or medical insurance.
Similar to mandibular advancement devices, mouth guards also reposition your lower jaw, albeit to a lesser degree. SnoreRx is a recommended option by some sleep physicians, available for purchase online for less than $100. Instead of starting with an impression created by a dentist, SnoreRx employs the “boil and bite” technique. You place the device in boiling water for a minute, allowing the plastic to soften, and then bite down on it to mold it to your teeth.
Comprising a soft plastic splint placed around your tongue, tongue-retaining devices hold it forward and out of your mouth throughout the night. However, they can cause excessive dryness and significant discomfort.
Most insurance plans partially cover these devices when used for OSA, except for simple snoring cases. Dr. Javaheri strongly advises against trying a device unless you have been officially diagnosed with OSA. Additionally, it is crucial to contact your insurance company to ascertain the extent of coverage before obtaining a device.
Remember, seeking treatment for sleep apnea is essential for your overall health and well-being. If you believe you may have OSA or are struggling with your current treatment, consult with a healthcare professional to determine the best course of action.
To learn more about dental devices for sleep apnea and other health-related topics that will make you smile, visit Make You Smile.