The first-line treatment for mild to moderate OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) is OAT (Oral appliance therapy), also referred to as sleep apnea mouthpiece. It is a splint that looks like a mouth guard that you put over your teeth, which is why it is also called a dental device when going to bed.
An oral appliance slightly moves your lower jaw forward to make extra space at the back of your throat and keep the airway open. Those with AHI(apnea-hypopnea index) between 5 and 30 are suitable candidates for OAT and are recommended to try this therapy first, and if it doesn’t work for them, then they should try CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure).
To help you make an informed decision, we’ve come up with the following list of advantages and disadvantages of using an oral appliance cited by people who’ve tried OAT:
The Advantages of Using Oral Appliance Therapy
Flexible Sleep Position
When a restless sleeper uses CPAP therapy for treating sleep apnea, the tubing may fall off the machine or mask which affects your therapy, i.e. your symptoms don’t reduce. On the other hand, a mouthpiece allows you to sleep in whatever position you prefer.
Being a small, single dental device, it means that all you need to do is put it in its case and carry it wherever you need it. In fact, it can even fit in your pocket. So, traveling with an oral appliance is quite simple.
Since it is a custom-fit device that doesn’t cover the nose and mouth, those who are claustrophobic prefer using a mouthpiece instead of a CPAP mask. Plus, it allows you to breathe air from the room.
A mouthpiece for treating obstructive sleep apnea is a silent therapy, unlike using a CPAP machine which produces noise throughout the entire night in order to blow air. Hence, if you sleep light or with a partner, then you should opt for an oral appliance.
No Skin Irritability
Last but not least, some people report having irritated facial skin due to wearing a CPAP mask every night. Some cited issues include sore spots, chafing, acne, ingrown hairs, skin creases, etc. But, with a mouthpiece, this isn’t a problem.
The Disadvantages of Using Oral Appliance Therapy
Namely, nearly 40% of those who stopped OAT cited temporomandibular (TMJ) pain as the main reason. This pain is caused by the device moving the mandible forward and results in headaches and soreness.
Wearing a mouthpiece usually causes sore throat, bad breath, and dry mouth. As a consequence, the production of saliva is increased which causes drooling and dry lips. Unfortunately, many people find this very uncomfortable.
Less Effective than CPAP
When compared to CPAP therapy, using an oral appliance is less effective for treating severe obstructive sleep apnea. This means that a mouthpiece won’t help you relieve symptoms completely, only partially.
The bottom line
As you can see, using an oral appliance for treating sleep apnea has both advantages and disadvantages. However, it is recommended that you use OAT before trying CPAP therapy since it is still the first-line treatment for mild to moderate Obstructive sleep apnea. Still, if it doesn’t work for you, just talk to your sleep specialist and he/she will recommend further treatment options.