Sleep Education
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Oral Appliances
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What is it?

Oral appliances are dental mouth pieces that fit very much like a sports mouth guards or removable orthodontic retainers. They are used to treat snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The device prevents the airway from collapsing by either holding the tongue or supporting the jaw in a forward position. Since oral appliances are non-invasive and easy to use, they may be considered as an early treatment option. Oral appliance therapy (OAT) involves the customization, selection, fabrication, fitting, adjustments and long-term follow-up care of specially designed oral devices, worn during sleep, which reposition the lower jaw and tongue base forward to maintain an open airway.

Custom made oral appliances are proven to be more effective than over-the-counter devices. Therefore, the over-the-counter devices are recommended not to be used as a screening tool nor as a therapeutic option.

Who gets it?

Oral appliance therapy can be used as an alternative to CPAP therapy for the treatment of mild to moderate sleep apnea and for those patients who prefer OAT  to CPAP.  Oral appliance therapy is a first line therapy for the treatment of primary snoring. Additionally, OAT is an option for those that cannot tolerate CPAP as therapy or who have experienced insufficient surgical results.

Possible side effects?

Frequent but minor side effects include: excessive salivation, dry mouth, discomfort of teeth and jaw and temporary changes in the patient’s bite.

Potential complications include: jaw pain, permanent occlusal changes and TMJ symptoms.

The above mentioned side effects and complications can be recognized and managed by dentists trained in dental sleep medicine.

Finding a dentist that practices dental sleep medicine

Specific training is available through the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine for dentists interested in working in the field of sleep.  To find a dentist who is educated in the field of sleep and the use of oral appliances, near you, visit the Web site of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine.

By Sheri Katz, DDS
Diplomate, American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine
Updated on May 18, 2009

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