Oral Appliances: Sleep Apnea & Mouthguard
Matt Hannan, DDS
Updated: August 1, 2023
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 struggles 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 at 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)
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.
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-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
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.
Knowledge is power when cultivating healthy dental habits. The more informed you are, the better positioned you’ll be to prevent avoidable and potentially costly dental procedures for you and your family. Watch for future blog posts, where we’ll continue sharing important information, product reviews and practical advice!