How do oral appliances for sleep apnea work?

This question was asked in Irvine, California on 01/28/2013.
How do oral appliances for sleep apnea work? Could they be as effective as the CPAP treatment? I don't like the feeling of having air forced down my throat.

Doctors Answers (2)

Joseph Lee, DDS, FICOI
Answered on: 1/29/2013

Oral appliances for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) hold the lower jaw down and forward to move the tongue away from the airway. This treatment can be as effective as a CPAP if the primary reason for the sleep apnea is the jaw being retruded too far. In the case where the neck has a lot of fat deposits from weight gain, this tends not to be as effective. The airway is limited and the tongue just blocks it completely. Moving the tongue out of the way may not be as successful as stopping the apneas as the airway may be moderately or severely limited. If a patient has moderate to severe sleep apnea, using a combination of an oral sleep appliance in combination with a CPAP is successful for a lot of patients as it allows a reduction in the air pressure needed to keep the airway patent. In cases where a patient is completely CPAP-intolerant, an oral appliance is better than using absolutely nothing. So, in cases of severe sleep apnea, our goal with an oral appliance is to reduce the apneas by at least 50%. Having Central Sleep Apnea needs to be treated with a CPAP only as an obstruction is not the main cause of the apneas, but rather a problem with the brain's regulatory functions.

Timothy J. Delcambre, DDS, MHA
Answered on: 1/29/2013

Oral appliances for sleep apnea/snoring are custom made to fit snugly on the top and bottom teeth and help position the bottom jaw forward. This allows for the tongue to shift forward and open up the breathing space, reducing or eliminating snoring and sleep apnea.