If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you probably know that traveling with a CPAP can be a hassle, especially if you’re flying. The bulky machine, mask, tubing and humidifier chamber take up about half the space in a standard airline carry-on bag, leaving you with precious little room for your clothes and other items.
Leave the humidifier behind and you gain a little extra wiggle room—but then you’re committing to sleeping with dry air coming into your nose and mouth for the duration of your trip.
Add to that the fact that TSA agents will ask to inspect your bag. TSA inspection of your CPAP is a minor inconvenience, but one that will hold you back from racing to make a flight if you’re running late. (Plus, you need a few extra moments to re-pack your bag after you get through the conveyor belt line.)
Adventure travelers with apnea have all those issues, plus more. Camping or staying in hotels or in a bed and breakfast means you need an electrical outlet or battery pack near the bed or tent (or a hookup for your camper).
If you’re staying in a foreign country, you’ll need a converter so you can plug into the unfamiliar outlets. And though CPAPs today are available in portable sizes with extra battery packs and even solar chargers, these slick new models aren’t always covered by insurance (and they still take up precious space in your backpack or roller bag).
If any of these CPAP travel annoyances sound familiar to you, you may be interested to learn that Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT) devices or splints—similar to mouth guards—can be handy alternatives to CPAP for frequent travelers with apnea.
Oral appliances for apnea are especially convenient for frequent flyers and adventure travelers who like to “pack light,” and for those who like to take extended naps or sleep sessions in spots where they may not be able to set up a full CPAP kit, due to lack of electricity or space constraints. (For example, trail-side in the woods, or on a beach.)
What Kind of Travelers Can Use Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT)?
If your OSA is severe and you can tolerate CPAP under normal conditions at home, you probably are not a good candidate for OAT. If you are someone who won’t travel with your cpap or won’t be able to use it on your trip, then talk to your sleep physician about using an oral appliance during this time with the understanding you will continue to wear your cpap at home.
However, if you have mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and hate traveling with the bulk of a CPAP, you could be in luck. Oral appliances are now approved as a first-line therapy for treating mild to moderate OSA. If your sleep apnea events—partial or complete losses of breath while sleeping—number 5 to 30 per hour, your doctor may give you the option of using an oral appliance to open up your airway and ease your breathing.
In other words, it’s possible the oral appliance may work just as well for you as your CPAP, with much greater portability and a lot less hassle. And because it’s an approved therapy for your type of apnea, it may also be covered by your insurance.
What Exactly Is Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT)?
An oral appliance, also known as a sleep apnea mouthpiece, is a custom-fitted splint you wear in your mouth while you sleep. An oral appliance keeps your airway open by sliding your lower jaw forward—just enough to make extra room at the back of the throat for the tongue and any excess soft tissue in the upper throat.
By creating this extra room, your airway is no longer blocked by an obstruction. You can sleep easily without any pauses or interruptions in your breathing—and without snoring.
Over 100 different styles of oral appliance are FDA-approved for use in the treatment of snoring and mild-moderate OSA. To some degree, all of these sleep apnea mouthpieces resemble an orthodontic retainer or sports mouth guard. When you have a mouthpiece made, it will come with its own carrying case for storage and travel.
Who Makes the Oral Appliance for Apnea?
Dentists specially trained to practice dental sleep medicine—2800 board-certified, credentialed professionals worldwide—can create custom sleep apnea dental devices for patients. The mouthpiece is custom designed to fit comfortably over your teeth.
Your sleep medicine dentist, together with your sleep specialist physician, will recommend an appliance that’s suitable for you.
7 Reasons to Travel with an Oral Appliance Instead of CPAP (if your Sleep Specialist Says it’s OK)
Are you still asking yourself, “Is it really worth it? Getting an oral appliance for my apnea before my next business trip or vacation?”
If you’re on the fence, here’s a handy list to remind you of the upside to getting a sleep apnea mouthpiece for travel:
- Oral appliances are small enough to fit in a large pocket. They come with their own travel cases. They’re lightweight and they have no tubing, masks, batteries or motors—meaning they won’t trigger TSA inspections at airports. If you travel routinely for business, an oral device presents a lot less hassle than a CPAP.
- You can wear your apnea mouthpiece if you sleep on a plane, preventing embarrassing snoring during red-eye flights and naps. Likewise, you can easily slip the oral device on when sleeping on buses, trains, and in shared-ride cars.
- Oral OSA appliances are easy to use, requiring no electrical outlets or batteries. They have no replacement parts. You don’t need to clean out any tubing or replace worn or dirty filters or other pieces.
- Less conspicuous (and silent). Oral apnea appliances are less intrusive than CPAP machines. If you’re traveling with friends and family (or co-workers) and have to share a hotel room or tent, an oral appliance is less embarrassing to wear in front of others. It’s also a lot quieter than a CPAP because it’s not emitting the low whistle and hum of forced air.
- Kinder on your nasal passages. Travel can sometimes take us to places with greater or less moisture in the air than what we’re used to. Sometimes, very sensitive patients complain of dry nasal passages, even when they use the humidifier attachment on their CPAPs. The forced air dries them out, setting them up to develop infections or to get sores in the nose and throat. However, oral appliance therapy has no forced air, so this isn’t an issue. You’re always breathing pure room air (or night sky air), no matter what. And if you have allergies or catch a cold while traveling, you don’t need to worry about the CPAP not functioning well when you’re stuffed-up. Oral devices don’t interfere with your nose one bit.
- Less expensive. Even if your insurance doesn’t cover an oral appliance, the cost out-of-pocket is generally much less than a CPAP machine. Adding an OAT device to your repertoire of therapies is affordable. And if you lose or break your device while traveling, it’s easy to replace it later; your sleep medicine dentist will have the specifications on file to make a new one quickly.
- High rate of compliance. Many people find CPAP uncomfortable or intrusive. They end up abandoning their therapy or using it inconsistently. You can’t reap the health benefits of a treatment you’re ignoring. Oral therapy has a high rate of compliance, in part because it’s so comfortable and easy to use. People don’t need to “take a break” from it while they travel. OAT essentially removes the built-in excuse of “it’s inconvenient to use my CPAP when I travel,” allowing you to comply with your therapy year-round.
To learn more about oral appliance therapy as an alternative option to CPAP, call Premier Sleep Associates today at (425) 698-1732.