CPAP vs. Oral Appliance: Is It More than Just Patient Preference?

man, sleeping on his side with cpap machine

CPAP vs. Oral Appliance: Is It More than Just Patient Preference?

For many patients with mild to severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (or “CPAP”) machines have proven to be an effective treatment—but that’s only if they can stand to wear theirs throughout the night and as directed. The unfortunate truth is that many patients find CPAPs so uncomfortable to wear when sleeping that they can’t sleep.

Sometimes, a custom-fit oral appliance can serve as a CPAP alternative; however, there’s much more to consider than just comfortability. Let’s look at CPAP vs. oral appliance treatments for patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

CPAPs for Sleep Apnea

A CPAP machine is designed to prevent apnea (or obstruction with negative pressure) on your windpipe while sleeping by continuously facilitating a stream of pressurized air and keeping your airway open.

The CPAP device has three main components: The machine itself, which generates the pressurized air; the hose that the air flows through and connects the machine to the mask, and the mask. When sized correctly, the mask should cover the mouth and nose, but not be too tight or so big that it covers the chin. It should also be secured to wear throughout the night with velcro or elastic straps that connect from both sides of the mask itself and wrap around the back of the head.

Pros and Cons of CPAPs

The Benefits

There are some great benefits to wearing CPAPs. First, as we mentioned before, CPAPs are known for their efficacy for most types of sleep apnea. Also, there are many models of CPAPs to choose from that are ready-made to use, and many insurance providers will at least provide partial coverage to help you pay for them.

The Drawbacks

Despite being a highly effective and accessible option, there also are some drawbacks to treating sleep apnea with a CPAP machine. If you’ve ever seen a CPAP device (or a picture of someone wearing one), you can probably tell just by looking at it that it’s not the most comfortable bedtime accessory. It’s especially overwhelming for people who are claustrophobic.

Another con for CPAP wearers is how dried out the skin that sits underneath their CPAP mask can become.

CPAP machines are also very loud. This can be at cross-purposes for bedmates who are looking for a good night’s sleep without any nighttime disturbances—from snoring or otherwise.

Finally, often patients are not compliant with their CPAPs, which defeats their intended purpose. If someone refuses to wear their CPAP at nighttime or during sleep, they are not taking effective steps to treat their sleep apnea. Consistency with wear is key.

Oral Appliance Therapy for OSA

Oral appliance therapy is an alternative to CPAPs that looks and acts a lot like an orthodontic retainer. The appliances are custom-made and align your jaw in a forward position to keep your airway open, instead of forcing it open with pressurized air like a CPAP. 

Some patients are hesitant to use oral appliance therapy because they don’t want it to affect their jaw. That is why it is important to go to a dentist that is board certified in dental sleep medicine. At our office, Dr. Hartsfield makes sure your custom appliance fits properly. Because it is custom-made, the oral appliance can serve as a retainer as well.

CPAP vs. Oral Appliances

CPAP intolerance is not entirely a matter of patient preference, so if CPAPs don’t work for you and your habits, oral appliance therapy might be a better option. However, the best option for you will be determined by you and a certified sleep specialist or dental sleep medicine practitioner, depending on your level of CPAP intolerance and severity of sleep apnea.

Trust Our Experts in Sleep Solutions and Dental Sleep Medicine

Whether you know you have sleep apnea or just suspect you do, we highly encourage you to come in and see us for a professional consultation.

At TMJ & Sleep Solutions of Alabama, our mission is to provide personalized care to restore quality of life, one patient at a time. If you are experiencing issues with sleep, don’t hesitate to reach out today and schedule an appointment!

Learn more about sleep apnea and the restorative power of dental sleep medicine and proven oral appliance therapy on our blog.