Many people wear a CPAP machine at night to treat the interrupted breathing of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that affects an estimated 22 million Americans. But CPAP machines can be noisy, cumbersome and uncomfortable, and many people stop using the devices, which can have dire long-term consequences.
Mouth guards may be a more comfortable and easy-to-use alternative for many people with obstructive sleep apnea, according to a new report. The study, published in Laryngoscope, looked at 347 people with sleep apnea who were fitted with a mouth guard by an otolaryngologist. Two-thirds of patients reported they were comfortable wearing the devices, and the devices appeared to be effective in helping to relieve the disordered breathing of obstructive sleep apnea.
The study's lead author, Dr. Guillaume Buiret, head of otolaryngology at Valence Hospital in Valence, France, said that if he had sleep apnea, he would choose an oral appliance first.
"It's easy to tolerate, effective and it costs a lot less than CPAP," he said.
Loud snoring may be the most obvious consequence of sleep apnea, but the condition, if left untreated, can lead to a broad range of complications, including high blood pressure, heart disease, liver dysfunction and Type 2 diabetes.
The problem develops when the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses during sleep, blocking the airway.
A machine for CPAP — or continuous positive airway pressure — is usually the first option for treatment. The device delivers pressurized air through a tube attached to a mask that covers the nose, or both the nose and the mouth. This keeps the airway open.
But many patients find sleeping with a mouth guard less awkward than using a CPAP machine. There are many variations of these gadgets available in drugstores, but a dentist can design a more effective personalized appliance, and modify or adjust it when necessary.