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Sleep Apnea: Oral Devices


Topic Overview

Oral devices (also called oral appliances or mandibular repositioning devices) are sometimes used to treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). They push the tongue and jaw forward, which makes the airway larger and improves airflow. This also decreases the chance that tissue will collapse and narrow the airway when you breathe in. See a picture of a mandibular repositioning deviceClick here to see an illustration. (MRD).

Oral breathing devices are sometimes a reasonable alternative to continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Although oral breathing devices generally do not work as well as CPAP, they may be considered for people who:1, 2

  • Have mild or moderate sleep apnea.
  • Prefer not to use or who have failed CPAP treatment.
  • Had surgery that did not work.
  • Tried behavioral changes that did not work.
  • Are at a healthy weight.

Choose a dentist or orthodontist who has experience fitting these devices. And go back to your dentist for regular check-ups to make sure the device still fits well.

Oral breathing devices can improve sleep quality and reduce daytime sleepiness.3 The use of oral devices reduced the episodes of abnormal breathing in about half of the people who used them.1

Possible problems with devices that fit inside the mouth include:

  • Buildup of saliva in the mouth, requiring frequent swallowing.
  • Discomfort, especially in the morning. The devices can be uncomfortable, and people tend not to use them over the long term.
  • Damage to teeth, soft tissues in the mouth, and the jaw joints. So it is important that a skilled dentist or orthodontist fit the device to prevent these problems.

If you use an oral breathing device to treat sleep apnea, use it every night. Excess saliva in your mouth and mild discomfort should become less bothersome with regular use.

An oral breathing device used for a child with sleep apnea must be refitted periodically as the child grows.

References

Citations

  1. Ferguson KA, et al. (2006). Oral appliances for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea: A review. Sleep, 29(2): 244–262.

  2. Malhotra A, White DP (2002). Obstructive sleep apnea. Lancet, 360(9328): 237–245.

  3. Hensley M, Ray C (2009). Sleep apnoea, search date May 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerMark A. Rasmus, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine
Last RevisedJune 17, 2011

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