If you’re regularly snoring at night, you may have sleep apnea. A common way to treat sleep apnea is with a CPAP machine, but are there alternatives available?
Some people prefer to skip the CPAP for an oral appliance, helping them sleep better without needing a machine. Continue reading to learn more about sleep apnea and its available treatments.
Snoring & Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder where your breathing stops multiple times as you sleep, disrupting a good night’s rest. Over 850,000 Canadians have sleep apnea, experiencing tiredness and other symptoms.
The cause of your sleep apnea depends on the type you have. Primarily, there are 2 types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue in the back of your throat blocks your airway, causing apneas. Central sleep apnea is a condition where your brain doesn’t send the correct signals to the muscles controlling your breathing, causing sleep issues. Additionally, some people can have both types of sleep apnea simultaneously.
Sleep apnea can be hard to identify alone because you’re asleep. You may feel tired during the day, but it’s more likely someone else will notice your symptoms first.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
It’s common for family members or partners to notice sleep apnea symptoms first because you’re not awake.
Some common symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring followed by silent pauses
- Gasping or choking during sleep
- Morning headaches
- Irritability or mood changes
- Poor concentration or memory loss
- Falling asleep while driving
How Does Sleep Apnea Develop?
The types of sleep apnea develop differently from each other, with central sleep apnea occurring when the brain doesn’t communicate with the breathing muscles effectively. Your apneas happen because your muscles lack this communication.
Obstructive sleep apnea develops due to the muscles in the back of your throat collapsing. Tissues like the soft palate, uvula, tonsils, and tongue relax too much, narrowing or closing off your airway.
When you have apneas, you stop breathing for 10 seconds or longer multiple times per night. Your brain notices the lack of breathing and forces you to quickly wake up. You likely don’t remember waking up, but you may do it 5 or over 30 times every hour, which doesn’t let you reach the deeper phases of the sleep cycle.
Traditional Sleep Apnea Treatment
The most common way people treat sleep apnea is with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This device sends pressurized air into your mouth while you sleep to keep the airway from collapsing. Each person has an ideal pressure, so it can take a bit to find the right solution for your needs.
Additionally, lifestyle changes can help some people sleep better, such as quitting smoking, losing weight, or sleeping in a different position. While these changes can help, most people still need treatment to improve their symptoms.
Not everyone wants to deal with all the parts needed for CPAP treatment. You usually need to wear a face mask that connects to the machine via a connective hose, and some people can find this uncomfortable and hard to sleep with.
Can Your Dentist Make You a Mouthguard for Sleep Apnea?
Yes, if you’re not a fan of CPAP therapy, alternatives exist to help improve your sleep. Between 46 to 83% of people with sleep apnea don’t continue with their CPAP. They can be uncomfortable, or someone may have another reason for avoiding them.
Your dentist can help make you a mouthguard to treat sleep apnea. This treatment is known as oral appliance therapy.
While looking like mouthguards, oral appliances prevent your tongue and other tissue from blocking your airway and disrupting sleep. These appliances are for treating obstructive sleep apnea. Your dentist has to create a unique mouthguard customized for your mouth—a poorly fitted mouthguard can potentially harm your jaw.
Previous research found that mouthguards have several sleep apnea-related benefits. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, an oral appliance can:
- Reduce the number of apneas or episodes of shallow breathing you have
- Improve blood oxygen levels
- Decrease the amount of snoring you have
- Lower the volume of snoring
- Reduce sleepiness during the day
How Do Oral Appliances Work?
Oral appliances work by addressing the factors contributing to your sleep apnea. The mouthguard shifts your lower jaw forward, opening the airway. Depending on your mouthguard, it may push your tongue forward as well.
Are Oral Appliances Safe?
While oral appliances are safe to use, they can have some side effects. It’s more common to experience these side effects during the first few months of using your mouthguard.
- Dry mouth
- Irritated gums
- Tooth pain
- Discomfort in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
Know Your Options When It Comes to Snoring
If you’re known as a loud or frequent snorer, it’s always worth testing for sleep apnea. If you have this disorder, you have several options for improving your sleep. You can use a custom-fitted mouthguard to help keep your airway open and enjoy a more comfortable sleep. Contact your dentist if you’re interested in an oral appliance for sleep apnea.