Obstructive sleep apnoea is an unpleasant and debilitating condition, caused by a restriction of the airways during sleep. This restriction, while not severe enough to compel the sleeper to awaken, can last for several minutes, until the sleeper gasps in air. The low levels of oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood caused by this condition have a range of nasty ramifications, including depression, constant fatigue, episodes of sleep paralysis, diminished cognitive functions and vision problems.
Despite this, many people who suffer from apnoea will not seek medical treatment for it. The reasons for this are two-fold; the first being that, despite the range of problems it can cause, it is quite difficult to diagnose, especially if you generally sleep alone. The second reason is that the treatments for sleep apnoea are generally quite unpleasant. CPAP and APAP machines are effective but can be noisy and uncomfortable to wear, medications are generally considered to be of little help, and surgery is a scary, last-resort proposition:
What are orthodontic splints?
Orthodontic splints are often used as an alternative to other sleep apnoea therapies, especially for people who find CPAP and APAP machines uncomfortable or difficult to sleep with. There are two main kinds of splint used to treat apnoea:
- Mandibular advancement splints (MAS) – These devices bear some resemblance to sport mouth guards, and are moulded to fit your teeth by an orthodontist. The function of these devices is to force the lower mandible forward slightly while the wearer is asleep. This tightens the muscles and tissues in the upper airway and the roof of the mouth, opening the airways to receive as much oxygen as possible. As a handy side effect, they also help to combat snoring, which many sleep apnoea sufferers will also suffer from.
- Tongue retaining devices – These devices look a little bit like a hollow baby’s dummy, with a restraining device inside which keeps the tongue straight, poking slightly past the lips. While it can look rather ridiculous, this straightening of the tongue keeps it from lolling backwards and restricting the airways during natural sleep, and can be very effective in cases of apnoea where the tongue is the main cause. Most tongue retainers are held in place by the lips, but some high-end models are fitted and braced to the lower teeth, and should be crafted by an orthodontist or other dental professional.
What are the advantages of using these devices?
- Cost – A standard MAS, moulded to your teeth and jaws, may cost several hundred dollars, depending on your orthodontist and the area you live in. This is still much less than even the most basic of CPAP or APAP machines, without even mentioning the cost of potential surgical solutions. Tongue retainers are very inexpensive, unless you choose to have one custom-moulded.
- Comfort – The tightening action of a MAS can be uncomfortable at first, but will come to feel normal as the muscles become used to their new positions. A tongue retainer is more uncomfortable, and can cause a painful tongue or dry mouth, but this will also recede with time.
- Ease of sleeping – In addition to the added comfort these devices provide over some alternatives, they are also less restrictive, allowing you to sleep in a more comfortable position. They are also silent unlike CPAP machines, although you may experience clicking noises until you become used to an MAS.
And what about disadvantages?
- Medicare – Orthodontic splints may not be covered by Medicare, unlike CPAP and APAP machines, forcing you to pay out of pocket. Check with your local jurisdiction.
- Dental hygiene – Splints should be cleaned daily to avoid the buildup of microbial nasties. Makes sure to brush your teeth before bed, particularly if you’re wearing an MAS, as they provide a sheltered environment for thrush and other oral infections to grow.
- Tooth shifting – Some speculation exists that long-term wear of an orthodontic splint may cause teeth to shift out of alignment – however, nothing has been conclusively proven as of the time of writing.
To learn more, contact a company like About Face Orthodontics with any questions you have.Read More