Sleep apnoea could be treated with a 3D mouthguard

Sufferers of sleep apnoea have long had to put up with bulky, noisy and uncomfortable devices to help them sleep at night, but things are looking up.
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01.Is there anything 3D printing can't do?

Man sleeping on a couch

People with sleep apnoea could soon be sleeping better, with Australia’s national science agency the CSIRO partnering with dental company Oventus to create a 3D-printed mouthpiece. The device allows air to flow through to the back of the throat, avoiding obstructions from the nose, the back of the mouth and tongue.

How does it work?

A patient’s mouth is scanned to create a blueprint of the mouth. The scan is then transformed into a CAD file and can be fed through a 3D printer, which spits out a fitted titanium mouth-guard eight hours later.

The CSIRO says the device has a "duckbill" that extends from the mouth like a whistle and divides into two separate airways. It allows air to flow through to the back of the throat, avoiding obstructions from the nose, back of the mouth and tongue.

Is it comfortable?

According to the CSIRO, it is. The mouthguard is coated in medical-grade plastic, ostensibly making it more comfortable than conventional sleep apnoea devices. The existing treatments for sleep apnoea include devices that push the lower jaw forward to open up the airway or, in more severe cases, a face mask that creates a continuous flow of air.

Oventus CEO Neil Anderson says the key to the new 3D treatment is in the design. “This new device is tailored to an individual’s mouth using a 3D scan and is used only on the top teeth, which make it more compact and far more comfortable.

"The new 3D printed mouthpiece bypasses all obstructions by having airways that deliver air to the back of the throat, and it will also stop patients from snoring.”

When will it be available?

The device is undergoing further trials and should be available to patients next year.

What is sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea occurs when the air passage in the throat becomes blocked during sleep and causes people to stop breathing. In severe cases, people can suffer hundreds of events per night. One of the most common symptoms of sleep apnoea (and arguably most disruptive for the household) is snoring. But snoring is just its most audible symptom; sleep apnoea can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and diabetes.

The CSIRO says an estimated one million Australians suffer from sleep apnoea, and that's expected to increase due to growing obesity levels and an ageing population.



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