Researchers in Australia have 3D printed a mouthpiece designed to combat one of the most common sleeping disorders in the United States — sleep apnea.
Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Australian dental company Oventus have discovered a way to 3D print a mouthpiece that can prevent dangerous pauses in breath during sleep.
The scientists used a 3D scanner to create a map of the patient’s mouth, according to Medical Xpress, and used the results to print titanium-built mouthpiece coated with medical-grade plastic.
The device features a duckbill that extends from the wearer’s mouth like a whistle. This creates two separate airways, which allows air to avoid obstructions in the nose, back of the mouth, and tongue by travelling through the back of the wearer’s throat.
Sleep apnea is an involuntary cessation of breathing that occurs during sleep. There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea, called OSA for short, is the most common type according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.
All three types of sleep apnea can cause one to stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night. These pauses are often longer than one minute, the ASAA notes. The sleeper is usually unaware of these pauses because they do not trigger a full awakening.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can have long term health affects such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
According to the American Association for Respiratory Care, sleep apnea affects up to 18 million Americans, and officials estimate that 10 million Americans with the condition haven’t been diagnosed.
The CPAP mask is the most common, non-invasive method for treating sleep apnea. The new 3D printed mouthpiece, however, is a more comfortable solution for those affected by the disorder. Oventus CEO Neil Anderson said the following to Medical Xpress:
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 3D printed mouthpiece is expected to be available for patients next year, but it’s unclear whether or not it will come to markets outside of Australia.