Sometimes when you’re sleeping deeply, the muscles in your throat, tongue, and roof of your mouth become so relaxed that they interfere with your breathing. The result is a vibration that causes the familiar sound of snoring.

Snoring has a number of causes, like allergies or sleeping position, but sometimes it’s a sign of something more serious: sleep apnea. A person with sleep apnea has episodes in their sleep when they briefly stop breathing. That puts extra stress on their heart and lungs and keeps them from getting good quality sleep. They’re often excessively sleepy during the day, have concentration problems, and are irritable. But it’s not only a matter of poor sleep quality. 

Sleep apnea affects your heart and oxygen levels throughout the night and can cause serious health problems, including high blood pressure, an enlarged heart, stroke, and heart attack. A test called polysomnography (a sleep study) can determine if you have sleep apnea. 

Many people diagnosed with sleep apnea find relief with CPAP therapy. CPAP therapy keeps your airways open by delivering a continuous flow of gently pressurized air into your throat. The air is delivered through a face mask or prongs in the nostrils. The problem with CPAP is that some people simply can’t tolerate wearing the mask. 

For those with mild to moderate symptoms, a custom-made oral appliance might be the solution.

How Do Oral Appliances Treat Snoring and Sleep Apnea?

Oral appliances treat snoring and sleep apnea by physically preventing the tongue and throat muscles from falling back into the airway. Many people with sleep apnea like oral appliances because they’re easy to use, more comfortable than a mask, and don’t restrict their movement in their sleep like a CPAP machine. 

Two common types of oral appliances for sleep apnea are:

Mandibular Advancement Devices (MAD) look like the mouth guards that athletes wear, fitting over the upper and lower teeth. They are designed to bring the jaw and tongue forward enough to keep the throat muscles from blocking the airway. MADs have adjustable hinges that determine how far the jaw is pushed forward. MADs are the most commonly used oral appliance for sleep apnea.

Tongue Retaining Devices work as a splint to keep the tongue from moving into the airway. Instead of moving the jaw, like a MAD, a tongue retaining device uses suction to keep the tongue from moving. Some people use tongue retaining devices if their jaw can’t be repositioned enough for relief with a MAD. 

A sleep apnea expert can help you find the right solution for your symptoms.