If you were diagnosed with sleep apnea, you shouldn't wait to treat the issue. Besides causing daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea can increase the risk of certain health conditions, like hypertension. There are a few different routes of treatment you can take. For example, you could treat your sleep apnea with an oral appliance. Here is how these appliances work and how to get one if you're a good candidate.

What Do Oral Appliances Look Like and How Do They Treat Sleep Apnea?

Oral appliances look similar to an orthodontic retainer or mouthguard. There are many types of oral appliances on the market, but many of them are constructed to slightly pull the mandible, or lower jaw, forward.

Many people with sleep apnea struggle to breathe at night because their tongue, soft palate, and other soft tissues relax too much and narrow or block their airway. However, when the lower jaw is pulled forward, it's harder for soft tissues to collapse, so you'll breathe easier when you sleep.  

Who Is a Good Candidate for an Oral Appliance?

People with obstructive sleep apnea are the best candidates for oral appliances. Obstructive sleep apnea is different from central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by upper airway obstruction, but central sleep apnea is caused by improper signaling from the brain to muscles that control breathing. If you have central sleep apnea, then you may need a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, or your doctor may need to prescribe medications to help your breathing.

Some people with TMJ disorders may worry that oral appliances may exacerbate their condition, but your doctor can help you find an oral appliance that only slightly moves the mandible forward so your joints aren't hurt. Some people with TMJ disorders may actually prefer oral appliances because some CPAP masks can compress and push the jaw backward, which can cause soreness.

How Can You Get an Appliance?

Your doctor or dentist can write a prescription for you to get a custom-made oral appliance. Your dentist will take an impression of your mouth and send that impression to a dental lab, where a dental technician will fabricate the oral appliance. Oral appliances are often covered by insurance, but if they aren't, then you may want to seek out a medical supplier on your own since you may find an appliance at a better price. The downside is that oral appliances sold by independent suppliers usually only have a few standard sizes, so you won't get a custom-fitted device like you would from a dentist's office. Instead, you could purchase a boil-and-bite appliance from a supplier, which can help you improve the overall fit of a standard size.

For more information, contact a company that provides sleep apnea oral appliances.