MONDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- A plastic "dental splint" mouthpiece may help keep some people from snoring through the night, Scottish researchers report.
The device might help many troubled chronic snorers avoid a cumbersome nighttime breathing mask or surgery, the team added.
"The take-home message is that we don't have to operate on all snorers," said study lead author Stuart M. Robertson, a surgical trainee at Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock, Scotland. "We try first a [mouthpiece], and if that doesn't work, we try the breathing mask, and if that doesn't work, we offer them surgery," he said.
Snoring is often harmless but can be a sign of sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing is disrupted during sleep.
The new study looked at patients whose snoring doesn't cause health problems but does aggravate their partners, perhaps forcing a spouse to sleep in another room, Robertson said.
Typically, he said, doctors performed surgery on the snoring patients, but the operations didn't always work. In the new study, conducted over two years, 20 patients were split into two groups. One group underwent three months of treatment with a mouthpiece and then three months using a special breathing mask; the other group did the opposite.
The study findings were scheduled to be released Monday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, in Washington, D.C.
The mouthpiece, known as a splint, is similar to a mouth guard worn by a boxer, Robertson said. But it protects both the upper and lower teeth and "moves your jaw forward, it allows you to breath more easily at night and reduce your snoring," he explained.
The mouthpieces cost about $400 and have to be replaced about once every two years, he said. They can cause discomfort and move the teeth around; Robertson recommends that patients regularly see a dentist.
The breathing mask, which costs $400 to $600, is hooked to a machine and sends air through a nasal mask into the throat where it forces the airway to stay open. "The masks do work very well, but they're so uncomfortable that I don't think a lot of patients can wear them, and they don't get the benefit of them," Robertson said.
Eight of the patients preferred the mouthpiece, and five chose the breathing mask. Seven didn't like either treatment.
As compared to Scotland, "a lot of Americans are more keen on the surgery, but they, too, are realizing that they can treat a lot of snorers with a splint or a breathing mask."
Dr. Ronald D. Chervin, a physician who treats sleep disorders at the University of Michigan, cautioned that mouthpieces aren't typically as effective as the breathing masks.
"It would be encouraging if they did even as well" as breathing masks," he said. "But they can be very effective for some individuals."
Learn more about snoring from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
SOURCES: Stuart M. Robertson, MBChB, surgical trainee, Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock, Scotland; Ronald D. Chervin, M.D., M.S., Michael S. Aldrich Sleep Disorders Laboratory, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Sept. 17, 2007, presentation, annual meeting, American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Washington, D.C.