Can Mouth Guard Reduce Sleep Apnea? Let’s Find Out

Sleeping disorders especially snoring in the night is often ignored by people or taken as a joke. But what they don’t realize is that simple snoring in the night can be a sign of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder which involves an irregular breathing pattern. The breathing may stop abruptly and start again. Such events reflect in the form of snoring.

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The irregularity caused in the breath often leaves the person exhausted and mentally disturbed throughout the day.

If left untreated, the condition can worsen and pose a threat to the overall health of the individual. It is therefore essential to identify your snoring and recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea as early as possible to treat it effectively.

Sleep apnea can be treated by a professional or at home by following specific preventive measures like throat exercises, use of nasal decongestants and even use of special mouth guards.

Today, in this article we will read more about sleep apnea and the use of mouth guards to aid in reducing it.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is characterized by small periods of shallow breathing followed by pauses in the breath of an individual during sleep.

Each pause in breathing may last from few seconds to few minutes, repeating during sleep.

A common symptom of this irregular pattern of breathing during sleep are recognized as loud snoring, choking or snorting.

Often, people who suffer from sleep apnea feel tired and sleepy during the day which negatively affects their mental health.

What are the types of sleep apnea?

There are two types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea – It is the most common form that occurs due to blockage in the air pathway. It occurs commonly when the back muscles of the throat contract during sleep.
  • Central sleep apnea – It is affected by disorientation in the central nervous system, where the brain fails to signal the respiratory muscles and causes instability in the respiratory control. As a result, the muscles contract obstructing the airflow. (1)

Both the types of sleep apnea are treatable and can be prevented by medications and regular throat muscle exercises.

Who is at risk?

Although sleep apnea can occur at any age, it is more prevalent in obese male above 40 years of age. Females who have a neck size larger than 16 inches may get affected by sleep apnea.

Other factors may include –

  • Individuals with large tongue or large tonsils
  • A positive family history of sleep apnea
  • Presence of nasal obstruction like a deviated septum or sinus related problems

How does sleep apnea affect the overall health?

Sleep apnea may cause fatigue and tiredness during the day, decreasing the efficiency of daily activities.

Sometimes it may be the cause of underachievement of children at school. It also poses a threat to health and increases the risk of –

  • Stroke (2)
  • Heart failure increased blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Headaches

Sleep apnea has a drastic effect on the quality of life and is necessary to be detected early in life.

What effect does sleep apnea have on your mouth?

Often, people who suffer from sleep apnea tend to sleep with their mouth open at night. This becomes the reason for them to wake up in the middle of the night due to dryness in the mouth.

A dry mouth is experienced due to lack of saliva, which generally helps to keep away the bacterial load in the mouth.

Lack of saliva may interfere with this protective mechanism and increase the bacteria in the mouth leading to initiation of tooth decay and associated gum problems.

Dry mouth also affects the moisture content on the oral tissues and often causes redness and inflammation of the gums.

In severe cases, sleep apnea may even lead to the habit of teeth grinding, clinically termed as bruxism.

Grinding of teeth during sleep is not only disturbing but can slowly abrade the enamel of the teeth leading to sensitivity or tooth pain.

The shape of the jaw bone and the size of the tongue play a significant role in worsening the symptoms of sleep apnea.

How can a mouth guard help to reduce sleep apnea?

A mouth guard is not used as a means of treatment for sleep apnea but it is used as a preventive measure to reduce sleep apnea to some extent.

Apart from this function, mouth guard also protects the teeth in individuals who have the habit of teeth grinding.

Mild cases or early stages of apnea and loud snoring have proved to be effectively reduced by the use of mouth guards in the night.

A mouth guard is made up of a thermoplastic sheet which is custom fitted to the teeth of the patient who has the habit of snoring or is diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Custom-fit mouth guards can be used with or without the assistance of a dental professional. Generally, a dentist fabricated mouth guard fits better and is easy to use.  (3)

A mouth guard may not only help to reduce sleep apnea but also protect the oral health in the following ways:

  • When the mouth guard is placed in the mouth, it positions the lower jaw and the tongue to open the airway path during sleep, ensuring continuous airflow through the mouth.
  • A mandibular advancement device that comes in the form of a mouth guard has proven to be the best appliance in treating sleep apnea. It functions like a regular mouth guard but is more stiff and sturdy. (4)
  • A sturdy mouth guard also protects the teeth and the surrounding tissue during bruxism. It takes up the biting load and distributes it equally maintaining the strength of the teeth.

A modification of a mouth guard is called as continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP).

It consists of a mask that fits over the nose and the mouth maintaining patent airway passage and ensuring constant airflow.

The use of this device can only be determined by a healthcare professional looking at the severity and extent of sleep apnea.

How much does a mouth guard cost?

The durability of the mouth guard depends on the type of material used to fabricate it.

Sleep apnea mouth guards are made from acrylic that can last for several years while the mouth guards made from thermoplastic material last for around 6-24 months.

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Depending on the model and the usability of the mouth guard, it may cost the patient from a mere $100 to $1500 or above.

Take away message

Every year an increasing number of people get diagnosed with sleep apnea, especially obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is potentially serious and may pose a risk to your health and life. It is of utmost importance to consult a healthcare professional to start the treatment. Mouth guards have proven to be of great help in reducing sleep apnea.

Mouth guards can be used without the assistance of a dental professional. However, it is recommended to consult your dentist first and look for all the suitable options.

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