Oral Appliance Therapy

Do Sleep Apnea Dental Devices Really Work?

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A friend of mine has mild sleep apnea. He did lose 60 lb. but is reluctant to undergo the surgery. I’ve heard of a dental appliance that opens the airways enough during sleep. What is your opinion of these devices?

by Dr. Burhenne

Do Sleep Apnea Dental Devices Really Work?

A friend of mine has mild sleep apnea which will cause him to lose his private pilot’s license. He did lose 60 lbs. on his own to try to improve his sleep apnea but is reluctant to undergo the surgery. I’ve heard of a dental appliance that opens the airways enough during sleep. But it appears to be a patented invention and I cannot find objective information on it. What's your opinion?

A: You’ve heard correctly. There are hundreds of dental devices out there that will correct sleep apnea and can help your friend keep his pilot’s license.

I highly recommend that your friend seek out a dentist knowledgeable in this area. Chances are that if your friend tests after he starts using a sleep apnea dental device every night, he will be able to keep flying.

The way these oral appliances work is by moving the lower jaw forward, which is where they get their name – mandibular advancement devices. This support of the jawbone opens the airway, thus correcting sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea occurs when the tongue and jaw fully relax along with the rest of the muscles in the body in deep stages of sleep. For some, their airway remains open even with all the muscles in the airway completely relaxed. But for many of us, when the airway muscles relax, things get very narrow in the back of the throat, and blockages occur, causing us to stop breathing.

These breathing pauses, or apneic events, can cause a whole host of issues, such as snoring,  depression, heart disease, cancer, and suppressed immune system. It’s an insidious condition because it sneaks up on you. Most of us associate getting a little tired with getting older, so this condition doesn’t typically get caught. The medical system is set up in such a way that sleep apnea only really gets caught by the time you’re falling asleep at the wheel. 80 to 90% of people with sleep apnea don’t know they have it, so I’m glad your friend is aware and taking action.

My recommendation to your friend is to get a sleep apnea dental device (also called a mandibular advancement device) made by a dentist trained in this area and to wear it every night. He can work with his doctor to determine if he should wear it with or without a CPAP machine.

Mark Burhenne DDS

read next: How to Mouth Tape for Better Sleep

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