Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT) vs Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation

Sleep is essential to our body’s natural regenerative process. Without that process, it makes it more difficult for us to concentrate on everyday tasks or have the energy to create a joyful, fulfilling life. It’s no wonder sleep specialists and healthcare professionals have been testing out different methods for those having trouble breathing during sleep. Now, there are a variety of treatment options on the market for sleep apnea. Two are hypoglossal nerve stimulation and oral appliance therapy (OAT). We’ll help you understand the difference and which option is best for you. In short,

  • Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation: Involves a surgically implanted device that stimulates the hypoglossal nerve to control tongue movement, preventing airway collapse in sleep apnea.
  • Oral Appliance Therapy: Involves using a custom-fit dental device (mouthguard) to reposition the jaw and keep the airway open during sleep.

What Is Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation?

man looking at the clock while having trouble sleeping

The hypoglossal nerve exists in our bodies to stimulate the muscles of the tongue. When stimulated, the nerve can also affect the shape of our tongues by altering the muscles in them. Hypoglossal nerve stimulation was created to send a shock to the tongue to help it extend into the mouth. In turn, this shock is used to help open the airways in the mouth for improved breathing quality for patients with sleep apnea.

How Does Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation Work?

Hypoglossal nerve stimulation works by putting a device into a patient’s body that will recognize when their breathing pathways are obstructed. This shock synchronizes with a patient’s breathing patterns so the tongue continues to expand and create space for the air.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation?

Like any treatment, you have the evaluate risk and reward. Treating sleep apnea is crucial to increasing the health of your sleep but you need to understand all of the treatment options available first. Hypoglossal nerve stimulation may work as a treatment for some patients, but not everyone.


One reason some report positively for hypoglossal nerve stimulation is that it is adjustable and able to be individualized under the care of a physician.


Hypoglassal nerve stimulation is expensive. The procedure costs can quickly add up, so it may not be the right treatment option, especially when there are cheaper therapies available for sleep apnea.

How Does Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT) Compare to Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation?

doctor smiling

Oral appliance therapy is used as an alternative treatment to CPAP or similar machines to stabilize the tongue while you sleep. A specialist will use a mouth guard or similar device for patients to put in while they sleep in order to relax their tongue and jaw and prevent shallow breathing. This treatment is simple, mild, and noninvasive for those suffering from sleep apnea.

How Does OAT Work?

Oral appliance therapy tools are created to fit in your mouth like a retainer will. It’s easier to take on and off than a CPAP machine, but still can help open the airways so patients are able to breathe in more air.

What Are the Pros and Cons of OAT?

Oral appliance therapy has been a proven alternative method of treatment for sleep apnea patients. Understand how OAT treatments may benefit you, and when you should consider other treatments.


Oral appliance therapy is a great low-cost and low-effort option for sleep apnea patients. It is easier to use than a traditional CPAP machine, and also easier to use constantly for night breathing problems.

  • Non-Invasive: Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT) is a non-invasive treatment involving a custom-fit mouthguard, while Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation (HNS) requires a surgical implant. Some individuals may prefer non-surgical options.
  • Ease of Use: Oral appliances are generally easier to use and maintain compared to implanted devices. There is no need for surgery or device adjustments with OAT.
  • Cost: OAT may be a more cost-effective option, considering that it doesn’t involve surgery or the ongoing maintenance associated with implanted devices.
  • Adaptability: Oral appliances are adjustable and can be customized to fit the individual’s comfort. HNS requires a surgical procedure, and adjustments may be more complex.
  • Tolerance and Compliance: Some people find oral appliances more comfortable and easier to adapt to than surgically implanted devices, potentially leading to better compliance.


Some cons of oral appliance therapy are that the device can cause drooling, mouth dryness, or bite changes. While OAT is less invasive than hypoglossal nerve stimulation, it still is important to consider the minor discomfort you may experience in your mouth.

Reach Out for Sleep Apnea Treatment

Patients with sleep apnea should always consider all of the options before deciding what is right for them. Hypoglossal nerve stimulation is an interesting advancement for the future of sleep apnea therapy, but it is also expensive. Oral appliance therapy is a simple, yet still effective treatment option for those needing help to clear their airways and have a restful night’s sleep.

Do You Have Sleep Apnea?

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