If you’re like most people, when you hear the word “retainer,” you probably think of dental braces. The image of a small plastic device with some metal wires sticking out might even come to mind. Although orthodontic retainers are most commonly associated with an orthodontic dental treatment plan, they are used for other things, too, including the treatment of sleep apnea.
Retainer therapy involves the use of specially fitted oral appliances. There are many different types of retainers, and which is best for you depends on the specific structure of your mouth and the condition being treated. Most can be removed easily and are designed to be worn while you sleep, much like a night guard.
After dental braces come off, most people wear an orthodontic retainer. That’s because the teeth need a little time to settle into the jawbone and soft tissue that holds them in their new position. Orthodontic retainers can also be used to close a space between teeth or just to move one tooth in cases where dental braces aren’t needed.
You may experience some minor discomfort when you first wear your retainer, which usually goes away within a few days. Your dentist or orthodontist can make an adjustment if your retainer causes pain or cuts.
Your orthodontist will tell you how long to wear your retainer and when. You might have to wear it full time for the first several months, then just at night after that. Orthodontists usually suggest wearing a retainer until the jaw stops growing, which is normally in your early 20s. That may seem like a long time for children, but the pay off is worth it — a perfectly straight smile!
Oral Appliance Therapy for Sleep Apnea
People with sleep apnea literally stop breathing in their sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea (the most common form) is caused by a blockage of the airway that occurs when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and closes.
Oral appliance therapy is most effective in treating mild cases of sleep apnea, as well as cases of heavy snoring. One positive side effect of oral appliance therapy is that it may also help treat teeth grinding (bruxism) and reduce the symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD).
The oral appliance looks a lot like an orthodontic retainer or mouthguard and is worn while you sleep. These dental appliances are designed to prevent the soft tissues of the throat from collapsing and obstructing the airway. There are two main types:
Mandibular Advancement Devices — These fit snugly over the upper and lower teeth, holding the lower jaw slightly forward.
Tongue-Retaining Devices — These are made of a pliable material with a compartment that fits around the tongue to hold it forward. They are usually recommended for people with few or no teeth.
People who use an oral appliance for sleep apnea may experience excessive salivation, morning soreness in the teeth or jaw muscles and tooth movements. These side effects tend to get better with time and will also improve with adjustments to the device by your dentist.
Wearing It Well
Once the oral appliance has been made, your dentist will show you how to put it in and remove it correctly. Your dentist will also provide you with dental care tips, including cleaning and safe storage tips.
Retainer therapy works best when you follow your dentist’s directions and wear the dental appliance exactly as instructed. Visit your dentist regularly to make sure your oral appliance fits comfortably and is doing its job.