Mouthpieces for Sleep Apnea or Snoring . What are the differences?

sleep-apnea-mouthguardFor people who have sleep issues, it can be difficult to distinguish between a snoring problem and the more serious issue of sleep apnea.

Thanks to this difficulty, some people believe that the solutions to the two problems must be the same. After all, both issues involve breathing problems as you sleep, so they should have similar solutions, right?

This isn’t the case. Snoring and sleep apnea are two different issues, and different products will work in some cases but not others.


Snoring is the hoarse or harsh sound that occurs when your breathing is partially obstructed in some way while you’re sleeping. Sometimes snoring may indicate a serious health condition. In addition, snoring can be a nuisance to your partner.

As many as half of adults sometimes snore. Snoring occurs when air flows past relaxed tissues in your throat, causing the tissues to vibrate as you breathe, which creates those irritating sounds.

It can also be caused by an elongated soft palate or obstructions in the nasal area, No matter what the exact cause, snoring is an issue that can disrupt your peaceful night’s sleep (as well as your partner’s sleep).

Sleep Apnea


Click to enlarge

Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. You may have sleep apnea if you snore loudly, and you feel tired even after a full night’s sleep. Sleep apnea sufferers often don’t realize that they have a sleep disorder.

They figure being tired during the day is just normal, and most people feel fatigued. It’s typical for sleep apnea patients to fall asleep during the day during activities like watching television or riding in a car.

While both conditions can be debilitating in their own way, sleep apnea is more severe. Not only do you sacrifice a peaceful night’s rest, but you literally stop breathing regularly. The disorder is characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing, or abnormally low breathing while you are asleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type, and tends to occur thanks to a physical blockage that reduces airflow. A lack of oxygen is clearly unhealthy, so it’s important to address this issue and find a solution that works for you.

Sleep studies and a visit to your doctor can be a good place to start if you suspect you may be suffering from sleep apnea.

How do sleep apnea appliance work?

how-apnea-mouthpiece-worksThere are a wide variety of styles, but the basic concept is that your jaw is repositioned to a slightly more forward position. This allows your airway to stay open and for you to breath clearly through the night without any of the tissue in your throat vibrating or closing the airway.

Ideally, this can help you stop snoring (if that’s an issue for you as well), while also addressing your sleep apnea. By keeping the airway open, your breathing is regulated and you don’t suffer from those pauses or abnormally low breathing during the night.

How do snoring mouthpieces work?

Once again there are a wide variety of styles to choose from, but there are 2 basic concepts.

With a MAD, your jaw is being repositioned to a slightly more forward position so that your airway can stay open.

With a Tongue Stabilization Device (TSD), the device keeps your tongue from falling into the back of your throat (preventing your airway from being blocked). Some items combine both concepts into one device.

As you can see, many of the snoring mouth guards and the sleep apnea mouthpieces work in similar ways. They hold the jaw forward with the intent of opening the airway.

But these devices are certainly not same for a few reasons.

What exactly is the difference?

Medical Device

medical-deviceThe first and biggest difference is that the sleep apnea mouthguard is a medical device and the snoring mouthpiece is not. You can purchase a it online and have  the device delivered directly to your home with no prescription required.

A sleep apnea mouthpiece requires a prescription, a doctor or sleep specialist appointment, a dentist appointment and a waiting period while the it is made. They can be considered an alternative to CPAP treatment or oral surgery.

Sometimes physicians will recommend a sleep apnea mouthguard to be used while the individual works on weight loss, which can affect sleep apnea disorders as well.

It is not recommended to try to use a standard anti-snoring appliance to cure sleep apnea because there are multiple types of sleep apnea and snoring is only one symptom of a larger issue. If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, please consult your doctor before making any decisions about which device to use.


durable-constructionA snoring device is generally made from plastic and is only designed to last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years in the case of some premium solutions. If you are a person who grinds your teeth while sleeping, you can expect the durability of the product to decrease.

A sleep apnea appliance is generally made out of molds taken from your mouth, it is designed to fit exactly and they are made from acrylic resins that can be similar to what denturists use to make dentures. They can easily last for years and with their perfect fit, wear down less.

Getting a sleep apnea mouth guard often requires the help of a qualified dentist for the initial fitting. There may also be a need for adjustments as time goes on. Your doctor and your dentist may be able to make recommendations for an adjustment timeline. So while there may be more of a time investment with a sleep apnea device, you’ll end up with a device that lasts for years and years and can be changed to suit your needs as time goes on.


A sleep apnea mouth appliance will require you to get a mold taken from a dentist, have the dentist send that mold off and it will come back as a perfect fit over your teeth.

This precision craftsmanship and more complicated design makes the sleep apnea appliance the clear choice for fit and comfort.

Typical anti-snoring mouth guards will use a variety of different methods to make them fit your mouth. Some devices have no special fitment at all and just assume that everyone’s mouth is the same.

Others use a hot water bath to soften a special plastic that will form around your teeth and stay stiff once cooled. This is the “boil-and-bite” technique that many snoring devices use. Some models allow for lateral adjustment of your jaw, so it is important to check out reviews and understand exactly what your needs are before you order one of these products.

Different devices have different effectiveness rates for various groups. For example, people with dentures or dental issues like an overbite or underbite might need a more advanced device.


pricingThis is a big difference. Generally if you have sleep apnea, your device will be more expensive. The mouthguard alone can set you back around $1500 and that’s without considering the time and money you’ll spend on doctor appointments, dentist appointments, adjustments, follow-ups, and more.

Thankfully, since this is a medical device, many insurers are starting to cover these costs. If you find that a sleep apnea mouthpiece is the best solution for you, it’s definitely worth considering talking with your physician and your insurer to see if there’s a way to lessen the financial strain.

The snoring mouth guard, on the other hand, usually costs anywhere from $30 to $150, depending on the particular device. Naturally, a more premium solution will have a higher price.

The main reasons for this huge difference in price between the sleep apnea mouthpiece and the snoring device is that the it is a custom fitted, a personally-built unit using durable materials, in contrast to the snoring mouth guard, which is mass-manufactured and easily bought online.

While many snoring mouthguards do offer customization via the boil and bite technique, the level of personalization can only go so far using a home fitting solution. Additionally, they tend to wear out faster and require more frequent replacement than the sleep apnea devices.

How can you decide which device is right for you?

choiceFirst and foremost, it’s important to figure out what your problem is. Not all snorers suffer from sleep apnea. Similarly, not every person with sleep apnea snores. So how can you find what you need?

The best course of action is to consult a doctor about your concerns. Do your research on symptoms of both conditions, and ask your partner if they notice anything during the night.

Often, people with sleep conditions have no idea until their partner points it out. After all, if you’re asleep, you might not notice that your breathing stops for long periods of time. Your partner may be more attuned to these unusual changes.

One course of action that the doctor may suggest is having you participate in a sleep study. The purpose of this is allowing a medical professional to monitor your sleep habits to determine the best course of action. They might find that your only issue is snoring, and give you some ideas on devices to fix it.

Alternatively, they may diagnose you with sleep apnea, and show you some options, like a CPAP machine or sleep apnea mouthpieces. If you do decide to go with it, the doctor may have you come in for follow-up sleep studies to analyze the effects of the device and make adjustments accordingly.

It’s important to note that trying to treat your sleep apnea with an anti-snoring device isn’t only likely to be ineffective, it can also be dangerous. The device may not open your airway in the intended fashion, and may actually result in your breathing issues being exacerbated, not solved. That’s why it is so critically important to make sure your solutions are approved and possibly observed with the help of a sleep professional.

If you do decide to switch devices, it’s best to consult a doctor about this choice.

exclamationIf you neglect this issue, then you are adversely affecting your health. Some people think that being tired is “no big deal,” or a disrupted sleep schedule is “just how I’ve always been, and I can’t change it.” The truth of the matter is that sleep is a big part of staying healthy, and if your sleeping habits aren’t healthy, then you aren’t healthy.

In fact, sleep apnea is downright dangerous. Not only does it worsen your day-to-day quality of life, but it can actually lead to heart disease and cancer.

You might be thinking that it’s inconvenient or expensive to go through all the trouble of visiting a doctor or dentist, going through diagnoses and fittings, but addressing your snoring and sleep apnea concerns could literally save your life.

So it really is worth it to make an appointment to discuss your issue and ensure that you are making a successful device choice to impact positively not only your nights, but the sleep of your partner or those around you.

Which Product Should I Choose?

questionEvery person has a unique mouth and needs, so one that is perfect for one person may not be the best option for another.

There are well over 100 products on the market, so making a decision can be quite daunting.

You will find a lot of helpful information in the comparison chart, and I have written reviews of several products.

If you would rather not spend a lot of time reading reviews, please consult my article titled “My Mouthpiece Recommendation”. I have compiled a list of three products that I believe are the best options, based on my experience.