How Do Sleep Apnea Mouthpieces Work?

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How Do Sleep Apnea Mouthpieces Work?

Loud snoring, gasping for air in the middle of the night, and waking up with a headache may be signs you have sleep apnea — and your dentist may have the solution. Here’s how a simple mouthpiece can restore your breathing and your sleep.

When you’re sound asleep, your body goes on autopilot, keeping all your systems running smoothly. Your autonomic nervous system takes over so your heart keeps beating, and your lungs keep inhaling and exhaling. 

Sleep apnea throws a wrench in that process by stopping your breathing repeatedly — up to 30 times an hour — throughout the night, causing loud snoring and oxygen deprivation. Different types of sleep apnea require different treatments, from changing your sleep position to surgery. One of the most conservative and effective options comes from your dentist.

At High Desert Dental in Ontario, Oregon, Ben Peterson, DDS and our team offer a simple solution that can stop your sleep apnea, help you get a good night’s sleep, and restore your health — a custom-fitted mouthpiece. Here’s what you need to know.

Types of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder, but because it occurs while you’re sleeping, you may not even know you have it. Loud snoring and gasping for air are classic symptoms, but if you sleep alone, you may not be aware of them. Daytime symptoms include drowsiness, fatigue, irritability, headaches, and dry mouth. Over time, sleep apnea can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure.

Getting the right treatment for sleep apnea depends on which type of sleep apnea you have. There are two main types, and, although rare, it’s possible to experience both types simultaneously, a condition called complex or combination sleep apnea. 

Central sleep apnea

When the brain fails to send signals to the muscles that control your breathing, you have central sleep apnea, named so because it’s related to your central nervous system. This can occur if you have a neuromuscular condition, such as ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease) or Cheyne-Stokes breathing.

To treat central sleep apnea, you need to treat the underlying health condition and use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to ensure your breathing stays consistent throughout the night.

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type, has nothing to do with your nervous system. Instead, the soft tissues in your throat relax and either partially or completely block your airway while you’re sleeping.

As your lungs and diaphragm work extra hard to force air in and out, the soft tissues in your throat flap and rattle — you know it as snoring.

To treat obstructive sleep apnea, you have options. If you’re overweight, shedding some pounds may relieve your symptoms. Propping up your pillows can help, too. A CPAP machine can also give you peace of mind that you’ll breathe regularly. But for many, all it takes is a simple mouthpiece to solve the problem.

How a sleep apnea mouthpiece works

Technically called a mandibular advancement device (MAD), a sleep apnea mouthpiece is a dental appliance that prevents your tongue and throat tissues from blocking your airway when your muscles relax. 

To accomplish this, the mouthpiece moves (advances) your lower jaw (mandible) into a forward position. This increases the distance between your tongue and the back of your throat, effectively enlarging the size of your airway.

At High Desert Dental, we offer custom-fitted MADs to make sure your treatment is comfortable. Dr. Peterson takes a precise mold of your teeth to create a unique device that’s yours alone. It fits over your teeth, providing a foundation that allows your upper jaw to stay in a fixed position while pushing your lower jaw forward. 

Your MAD is adjustable and can move your jaw in small increments until you find the perfect alignment that stops your snoring, resolves your obstructive sleep apnea, and decreases your risk of related health conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. 

To find out if a custom-fitted MAD is right for you, schedule an appointment with Dr. Peterson by calling our friendly staff or booking online today.