Sleep apnea comes in two forms: central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is caused by malfunctions in the part of the brain that control the body’s respiratory system. When the brain misfires, the system fails to operate correctly and breath is interrupted. Patients who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea experience the same stopping of breath, but from a physical obstruction of the airways. Mouthpieces can be an effective way to combat obstructive apnea.
Airway obstruction is caused by the relaxing of muscles that support the respiratory system: tongue, airway muscles, and throat muscles. The main cause of airway obstruction is most often the tongue. The muscles of the tongue relax too much and slide backward into the throat; pushing against the soft palate and the uvula. In obstructive sleep apnea, the airflow is interrupted for at least ten seconds at a time. The blockage can be caused by the tongue completely blocking the airway; it can also be caused by the collapsing of the walls of the airway.
Because the tongue is the biggest culprit that causes airway obstruction, it is important to be prepared against it. To stop the tongue from falling back into the throat during sleep, it must be held in forward in the mouth; it has to remain in a protrusive position while sleeping. Mouthpieces are the best way to relocate the tongue. Oral devices help keep the tongue in a forward position by causing the bottom half of the jaw to advance forward. The tongue follows the jaw, and when the jaw is moves forward, the tongue will too. If you suffer from sleep apnea, it is most likely due to the fact that either that your tongue is larger than normal or that it is more prone to over-relaxing. In addition, the shape and design that makes up your individual airway is more likely to collapse.
For victims suffering from sleep apnea, there are two major kinds of dental devices that can be used. One option is a called a Tongue Retaining Device. The device is designed to hold the tongue in place while the patient sleeps; this will prevent the tongue from collapsing and blocking the airway. The second type of device looks like an athletic mouth guard and is call a MRD, or Mandibular Repositioning Device. The MRD forces the lower part of the jaw to more forward; it also presses the lower jaw down a little bit. The tongue follows the jaw; so it also moves forward and slightly down. This adjustment makes more room in the mouth and airway, ensuring that the airway remains open and obstruction free.