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Obstructive sleep apnea has become a very common problem in the United States that can cause a variety of health issues. It is commonly treated with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine which has been proven to be highly effective. However, many patients find the machine uncomfortable, and that can discourage them from following the prescribed use. Inconsistent use of the CPAP machine will result in less than optimal results. There are alternatives to the CPAP, and some recent studies show results can be just as useful. Because these alternate methods are much less problematic for users, they tend to use them more diligently. One such treatment can that can be provided by dentists is the Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD) or sleep apnea mouth guard.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a disorder in which breathing stops during sleep. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common type and occurs when the airway is blocked by excess tissue at the back of the throat. Obstructive sleep apnea is often associated with obesity, and in severe cases has been linked to cardiac death and stroke.
What Is CPAP And What Are The Drawbacks?
CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure and is the most common sleep apnea treatment. The CPAP treatment uses a mask placed over the face and attached to a machine that creates air pressure in the throat, opening the airway. CPAP is highly effective at preventing breathing disruption, but the biggest drawback is that some patients simply don’t use the machine. Some users feel that the air pressure is uncomfortable in the back of the throat, while others feel that the noise made by the machine is disruptive to sleep. These conditions drive some patients to decline the use the machine (or use it irregularly) even when a doctor determines it necessary.
How Do Sleep Apnea Mouth Guards Work?
A MAD is a device similar to a mouth guard– custom made by your dentist. Studies show they are effective in treating sleep apnea and can also help with snoring. MADs move the jaw forward and increase the size of the airway, reducing resistance and making breathing easier. If you’ve been evaluated by your doctor and decide that a MAD would be a good fit, your dentist will work with you to create a customized MAD for your mouth and condition. Patients should avoid generic mouth guards sold online as they are not generally effective.
What Are the Benefits Of Sleep Apnea Mouth Guards?
The National Institutes of Health reports that while CPAP devices may be the best treatment for sleep apnea, MADs are proving to be equally or more effective simply because they are more likely to be used. The NIH also reports that MADs do more to boost patients’ overall quality of life. They are smaller, less invasive and easier to use than a CPAP, making them more convenient and patient-friendly than a machine.
MADs are also less costly than CPAP machines. The custom mouth guards cost around $2000 and are covered by many insurance companies and Medicare.
Will A Sleep Apnea Mouth Guard Work For Me?
As reported by the NIH, studies increasingly show that MADs are an effective alternative to CPAP. However, patients who are obese may get less benefit from a mouth guard and may require treatment with a CPAP.
MADs tend to be more effective in mild to moderate sleep apnea cases, according to the NIH. However, doctors may recommend a mouth guard even in more severe cases when using CPAP is not working for the patient. Researchers say the best practice is for doctors to talk to their patients about which treatment will work best for them, going over the benefits and drawbacks of each option.
Your Dentist And Sleep Apnea Mouth Guards
The idea of using a dental device to treat a serious and potentially deadly health condition may be surprising but as the research rolls in, it’s becoming clearer that a relatively simple mouth guard may be more effective than a more complicated machine at treating sleep apnea. Making treatment convenient and comfortable for patients is key, and studies show that many patients are more willing to use their MADs than to plug into a breathing machine every night. Along with your doctor, your dentist can be an important partner in treating sleep apnea.