All of us have read “Blondie,” a comic strip, where Dagwood Bumsteademits “SNXXX” sound while sleeping. While he sleeps, Blondie digs deeper into the pillows. We also see Dagwood catching a nap at home and office.

Dagwood is a classic example of a medical condition known as obstructive sleep apnea or OSA.

What is OSA and Its Dangers?

A person with OSA is never rested as they do not get a decent night’s sleep. An OSA patient’s airway tends to constrict as they sleep making it difficult for them to breathe correctly.

This results in them straining to breathe. A person with obstructive sleep apnea either breathes shallowly or stop breathing (for a short period) many times during the night.

Decreased breathing results in blood oxygen level dropping forcing the central nervous system to step in and arouse the person to take in a big mouthful breath, which sounds like a gasp.

People with OSA generally do not know they are snoring and waking up at night. Sleep apnea results in hypertension and the development of many cardiovascular conditions.

Treatment for sleep apnea can range from changing sleeping position, weight loss, to using OSA mouthpiece and/or CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). Extreme cases of sleep apnea might require surgery.

Sleep Apnea Mouthpiece

A mouthpiece is a device that is worn by a person during the sleep to ensure that the airway is kept open. Sleep apnea mouthpiece works by making the tongue move forward to allow free movement of air.

While some devices do this by holding the tongue directly, other designs do this by moving the mandible (lower jaw) forward.

Not every device is suited for everyone. Choosing a particular type of mouthpiece depends on the condition’s severity as well as the specific needs of the person. Another big issue here is comfort as well as availability.

These devices do have their disadvantages. Some designs restrict mouth breathing completely (troublesome if one has blocked nasal passages). Some models prevent talking or drinking liquids. Some might even cause unwarranted side effects and complications.

Moreover, these devices last for only six months to a year, two maximum, and one has to change them regularly. The frequency will depend on the product quality as well as usage.

This is where device availability comes in. Ideally, a sleep apnea mouthpiece has to be created and fitted by a dentist.

But there are problems like insurance coverage, losing the device while traveling, or delayed dentist appointment for getting a new appliance fitted.

A good sleep apnea device is one which is doctor-approved, affordable and suits a patient’s lifestyle and daily routine.

Sleep apnea mouthpiece comes in different shapes and designs, but the purpose of every one of them is the same - keep the patient’s airway open. These devices are broadly categorized to:
  • Mandibular advancement device (MAD).Similar to mouth guards worn by athletes, these devices fit over the top and bottom teeth. The hinges present allows for more natural movement of lower jaw allowing to stabilize the soft palate and the tongue which in turn keeps the airway open.
  • Tongue retaining device (TRD).A type of splint, a tongue retaining device holds a person’s tongue in place allowing the airway to stay open. This is not as popular as a MAD as a person can have difficulty getting used to it and can leave them uncomfortable. Unlike MAD, a TRD protrudes beyond the teeth.
There are also OTC “boil and bite'' devices. These are heated in boiling water and the wearer bites into it to make it fit and adjustable to the mouth.

Sleep Apnea Mouthpiece Availability

Sleep apnea mouthpieces are readily available in the many physical pharmacy stores and large online retailers! Those having prescription-only models can source it directly either from the dentist or the doctor.

One can easily find these in Walgreen, CVS or even Walmart. These devices are also available on Amazon or other online stores.

These devices do not have a universal name, so caution is the word when purchasing these online devices. Besides being called a mouth guard or mouthpiece, sleep apnea oral appliances are also called anti-snoring devices or snoring aid.

Certain marketers also use terms like snore stopper or snoring solution to sell their appliances.

OTC Mouthpieces?

Yes! One does not always need a prescription for getting a sleep apnea mouthpiece. You can also get it over-the-counter. The most common oral device is boil-and-bite MAD.

Devices that come in this category are popular since they are affordable and make up for a significant share in the oral device market. They’re also known as DIY mouthpieces, as one has to mold them to the shape of the mouth by themself.
Typically, these OTC sleep apnea mouthpieces are bulkier than their prescription counterparts. If one has a smaller sized mouth, adjusting the mouthpiece can be difficult.

Some of these DIY products are also impossible to use. Fortunately, a majority of these devices describe this limitation in the product info.

One of the essential things while picking an OCT mouthpiece is to ensure that the appliance has received FDA approval. These appliances are kept in the mouth for a long time and need to undergo testing and evaluation and need to hold up to the standards given by the FDA.

Making sure that the mouthpiece is for snoring purposes only is another crucial thing to make a note of. You have tons of boil-and-bite devices that are used for teeth grinding and the last thing one wants is spending money on a device that is of no use.

Online purchase of Prescription Dental Mouthpiece

Yes, it is possible to purchase a prescription sleep apnea mouthpiece online. But this is a tricky slope.

According to the FDA, mouthpieces used for resolving snoring has to be bought with doctor prescription only, though the FDA has cleared some mouthpieces for online distribution.

Devices from even those brands that state prescription devices are needed for the purchase of the device can be easily found on Amazon and other online stores.

The Bottom Line

Sleep apnea mouthpieces are very useful for a person suffering from sleep apnea. These devices are the difference between a restful and refreshing sleep to a stressed out and unrefreshed rest.

However, it is preferable if one starts using an OTC mouthpiece first if they are using the device for the first time or believe that they snore occasionally.

That said, self-medication is never a good option. One has to consult a doctor before taking any major decision like this. Any changes in the daily routine should be first checked out with a healthcare professional.

Approval from a doctor is essential when it comes to OSA mouthpieces, as some devices if misused, can result in long term adverse health effects which might take a long time for recovery.