Oral Appliances: Sleep Apnea & Mouthguard

Dentist shows invisible braces aligner oral appliance to patient

Dr Advocate Avatar IconUpdated: January 30, 2023
By: Dr. Advocate

Did you know your dentist can treat conditions outside of traditional dental procedures? For example, sleep apnea, bruxism, and dentoalveolar injuries are treatable and preventable with different oral appliances available through your dentist. For instance, it’s estimated that 1 in 15 adults suffer from sleep apnea; 80% of them are undiagnosed.

Also, 10% of the population struggle with bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching), and many adolescent injuries affect teeth, gums, and supporting bones. Therefore, dentists play an essential role in protecting patients from avoidable tooth damage by fabricating nightguards and sports guards. Also, if a patient struggles with sleep apnea and cannot tolerate a CPAP machine, a general dentist can fabricate an oral sleep apnea appliance with their doctor’s clearance.


Sleep apnea appliance

Many sleep apnea patients have difficulty tolerating a CPAP machine because it’s loud, claustrophobic, and distracting for partners. Dentists can fabricate an oral sleep apnea appliance, a mandibular advancement device. Patients with sleep apnea are more prone to decreased oxygen during the night because of a blocked or collapsible upper airway. Symptoms include snoring, snorting, or choking sounds. Sleep apnea is primarily diagnosed with an overnight sleep study.

Mandibular advancement devices (MAD) consist of an upper and lower retainer affixed to one another in the front or along the sides. A MAD aims to pull the lower jaw forward and open the airway while you sleep. An EMA device, for example, has varying lengths and strengths of detachable bands, so a comfortable fit is possible.

Most mandibular advancement devices open the airway and prevent grinding and clenching. It’s not uncommon for patients to have difficulty opening and closing their jaws after wearing their appliance all night which can be managed by gently chewing on sugar-free gum to loosen the muscles and ligaments that stabilize the jaw. Let’s take a closer look at the mandibular advancement device.


Mandibular advancement device (MAD)

Pros

  • Less expensive than CPAP machine
  • No noise to disturb partner
  • Portable
  • Easy to disinfect
  • Not as claustrophobic or cumbersome
  • Able to use restroom without having to disconnect from CPAP machine

Cons

  • Requires doctor’s approval
  • No positive pressure oxygen flow
  • Limited research compared to CPAP machine
  • Less oversight

Patients who struggle with sleep apnea feel sleepy and tired because their bodies work overtime to maintain function with limited oxygen. After using this appliance or a CPAP machine, patients will be encouraged to feel more rested and alert during their day. Oral sleep apnea appliances can save lives. Talk to your doctor and dentist to learn more about this oral sleep apnea option and if it’s right.


Nightguard

Grinding and clenching is a common manifestation of stress and anxiety. Now more than ever, our work life has intruded on our personal life, creating unwanted tension that many individuals take out on their teeth. Everyone responds differently to stress; however, bruxism may be one of the first signs. The patient should preserve enamel at all costs because it’s gone for good once it’s gone. Below are a few indications that you may need a nightguard.


Signs you may need a nightguard


  • Tender jaw muscles in the morning
  • Sensitive or sore teeth
  • Noticeable pits in the teeth
  • Fracture lines appearing in the enamel
  • Front teeth appear shorter or smaller
  • Jaw pain when opening or closing

Nightguards are routinely fabricated for patients using a conventional “gooey” impression or can be quickly scanned with a digital scanner. Similar to sports guards, they can be custom manufactured with varying thicknesses to maximize the fit and function of each patient. Be sure to properly clean your nightguard using a soft toothbrush and a cleaning tablet to soak it weekly to remove plaque and bacteria. Don’t use toothpaste, as this is abrasive and can affect the longevity of your appliance. Also, let it dry completely before storing it; bacteria love moist environments. Lastly, pets and children have been known to damage nightguards, so keep them out of their reach.

Related: Best MDA Recommended Products


Sports guard

sportsguard/Mouthguard hanging off helmet of football player | Oral appliances | My Dental AdvocateSports-related dental injuries are common for all ages; however, they’re most common for adolescents because their bodies undergo a maturation process as they become bigger, faster, and stronger, leading to quicker movements that don’t always translate to responsive reactions that may lead to injury. In addition, as they grow into their bodies, they may initially be uncoordinated, leading to unexpected falls or injuries.

Sports guards are highly recommended for contact sports to redistribute energy during impacts to the head and neck region. It provides a cushion to prevent the blow’s force from traveling to the brain and causing harm. Also, it contains opposing teeth from smashing into one another, which could lead to fractures, nerve exposure, or avulsion.

Sports guards can be purchased online or at your local sports store. All sports guards will require you to boil and bite for accurate fitting. Be sure to find a size specific brand rather than a one-size-fits-all. Also, if you are looking for a football sports guard, make sure you find one with a detachable strap to prevent damage to your teeth if your helmet is removed during contact.

Dentists also can fit you with a custom sports guard after taking a conventional or digital impression. The lab can fabricate the guard with varying thicknesses to maximize the fit with your opposing teeth. Also, there’s a wide variety of colors and designs so you can stand out on your team.

Recommended Reading: Sports Mouthguard: Protect Your Teeth, Braces & Lips


Final thoughts


Dentists are equipped with appliances that can improve a patient’s quality of life outside traditional dental procedures. For example, have you recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea? Do you need dental work because you grind your teeth at night? My Dental Advocate’s team of board-certified dentists can provide a second opinion on your planned treatment. We look forward to bringing you peace of mind by verifying your treatment plan, suggesting an alternative, or answering your questions.

The more you know, the more healthy habits you can develop, saving you and your family from avoidable and potentially expensive dental procedures. Talk to your dental professional for more suggestions on improving oral health and check back for more blog posts and relevant information. Please share this site and let us know what else you’d like to know!


Related topics

Dental Implants | Dentures | Oral Appliances | Partial Dentures


Dr Advocate Avatar IconAbout the Author

Dr. Advocate is a board-certified dentist with 5+ years of clinical practice experience on a mission to provide accurate dental patient education. He believes everyone should access easy-to-read dental resources presented in layperson’s terms with relevant, up-to-date dental research and insight to improve their oral health.