If you're finding that treating your sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) isn't working for you, you may be looking for another option. It's important to treat this condition, which can have dangerous health consequences. In addition to various oral appliances that reposition your lower jaw, there's another option called a tongue stabilizing device.
What is a Tongue Stabilizing Device?
The tongue stabilizing device (TSD) is touted as an alternative oral appliance treatment for snoring and sleep apnea. It is a small piece of plastic that sits at your lips and resembles a large pacifier with a hole into which you can insert your tongue. When used, it can hold your tongue forward, which might alleviate snoring or sleep apnea that occurs with an obstructed airway.
Who Might Consider Using a Tongue Stabilizing Device?
A tongue stabilizing device may be a desirable treatment option if you have been unable to tolerate standard treatments for sleep apnea, such as CPAP. It may be especially useful if your airway is obstructed due to a large tongue (called macroglossia). It must be properly fitted by a medical professional, typically your doctor or dentist.
Not everyone can use a TSD. You must be able to stick your tongue out past your teeth in order to secure the device in place. If your tongue cannot stick out far enough, it may not work for you. In particular, some people with an intact frenulum (the connective tissue that holds your tongue to the floor of your mouth) may not be able to use a TSD.
It is not an effective treatment for central sleep apnea.
What Problems Can Occur with a Tongue Stabilizing Device?
The TSD must be rinsed with hot water before it is applied to your tongue. This will make the plastic more flexible and the fit will be more secure. Nevertheless, some people complain that the device comes off during the night. This may be especially true if it fits poorly.
This may not be the only difficulty you encounter when using a TSD. Some users complain that it creates a disagreeable sensation on the tip of the tongue. It might also cause you to salivate more and even drool. Still others report that they have difficulties swallowing (which relates to the altered positioning of the tongue). You may also notice a slight discoloration to your tongue when you use it.
Care and Cleaning of a Tongue Stabilizing Device
It is very important that you clean your TSD every day with hot water to prevent infection and minimize unpleasant odors. You may find it helpful to clean it with a denture cleaning solution on a weekly or monthly basis. You should not clean it with mouthwash as the alcohol contained in the mouthwash may dry out the plastic and damage the TSD. In addition, when you are not using your device, you should store it in a cool and dry environment within its container.
If you have struggled with CPAP and are interested in trying alternative oral appliances, talk to your doctor about the possibility of trying the tongue stabilizing device.
Deane, S.A. et al. "Comparison of Mandibular Advancement Splint and Tongue Stabilizing Device in Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Randomized Controlled Trial." Sleep 2009;32(5)648-653.
Kingshott, R.N. et al. "The Efficacy of a Novel Tongue-Stabilizing Device on Polysomnographic Variables in Sleep-Disordered Breathing: A Pilot Study." Sleep and Breathing. 2002 Jun;6(2):69-76.
Sutherland, K. et al. "Comparative Effects of Two Oral Appliances on Upper Airway Structure in Obstructive Sleep Apnea." Sleep 2011;34(4):469-477.