What is a Dental Appliance?

A dental appliance is a small plastic device, similar to an orthodontic retainer or an athletic mouthguard. It is worn in the mouth during sleep to prevent the soft throat tissues from collapsing and obstructing the airway. Dentists with training in dental appliance therapy can design, construct, and fit these special appliances to meet their patients' individual situations and conditions. In recent clinical studies, physicians and dentists have found that, in a majority of patients, a well-made, well-fitted dental appliance will effectively reduce or eliminate snoring, and significantly relieve symptoms of mild and moderate OSA.

Dental appliances work in three ways: by bring the lower jaw forward, by holding the tongue forward, and by lifting a drooping soft palate. A combination appliance may perform two or more of these functions at the same time. Dental appliance therapy is not a new idea. It was in use as far back as the early 1900's. But it was not until the 1980's that physicians and dentists began to work together to study and develop this alternative form of treatment, enabling more patients to benefit from it.

Advantages of Dental Appliance Therapy

Dental appliance therapy offers many advantages:

  • Dental appliances are relatively small, and easy to wear. The appliance weighs only a couple of ounces, and its small size makes it easy to use when travelling. Most people find it takes no more than a few weeks to become completely comfortable wearing the appliance.
  • Dental appliances are relatively inexpensive. The total cost of therapy is considerably less than the cost of alternative treatments.
  • Treatment with a dental appliance is reversible and non-invasive (it does not involve surgery).

What the Dentist Can Do

On your first visit, the dentist will thoroughly examine your teeth and mouth, with the aid of X-rays and dental molds. You may then be fitted with an appliance, which you will take home and try out for a week. Over succeeding weeks, if necessary, you may try out other types of dental appliances. Finally, your dentist will design and fit your custom-made appliance. Your dentist will show you how to place the appliance in your mouth and how to care for it when you are not using it. Once you have been using the appliance regularly, during sleeping hours, for two or three months, the dentist will refer you back to your physician or sleep specialist to determine how effectively the appliance is controlling your snoring and OSA. You will continue to visit the dentist at regular intervals, and he or she will work with you to modify and maintain your dental appliance to that it remains effective.