Tongue Retaining Devices

A tongue retaining device is a type of anti-snoring device that holds the tongue in a forward position during sleep. This is sometimes accomplished through a ‘suction-like mechanism’ on the device, which sort of grabs the tongue and pulls it forward, or by use of some sort of structure within the device that literally pins the tongue down so that it cannot slip and fall back.

There are quite a few different types of tongue retaining devices on the market… some of which utilize only TRD technology to help with the snoring problem, and some of which also incorporate other elements into the device as well. For example, there are some devices out there that blend the idea of the tongue retaining device with the idea behind the mandibular advancement device, etc.

How Is A Tongue Retaining Device Meant To Work?

The concept behind these devices is actually pretty simple. Most snoring occurs when the soft palate, in the back of the throat, relaxes during sleep… thereby partially (or completely) blocking off the airway. When this happens, air travelling in and out can cause the tissue to vibrate. This is what causes snoring, and it can also contribute to a sleep apnea problem as well, in some people.

How Tongue Retaining Devices Work

Part of what makes this problem so bad is that the tongue can tend to fall backwards into the throat, further blocking the airway and creating even more vibration than usual.

So, Tongue Retaining Devices help by keeping the tongue pulled forward during sleep. This lessens the chances of soft palate vibration, creates more room for air to move through the airway, and does a pretty good job of preventing snoring. Some of these devices can even help in sleep apnea in some cases… though there are not many that have been clinically tested for it.

Do We Believe That This Method / Product Works?

Obviously, whether or not a product will work for you depends more upon your specific case than it does the idea behind the product… though it is also true that some products just simply work better for more different cases of snoring than others.

The most common cause of snoring is soft-palate vibration… so devices/products that treat this type of snoring are, by default, going to probably get better results than products that treat other types of snoring. Snoring resulting from nasal congestion, for example, may require a different type of product to treat, etc.

But, with that being said, we have found that Tongue Retaining Devices do tend to work really well, in the grand scheme of things. They are one of the more popular anti snoring products on the market, and for good reason. They treat soft palate vibration snoring by keeping the tongue pulled forward – and this tends to be a pretty effective method of treatment.

The Positives

The main upsides to this product are as follows…

  • It tends to work well in a lot of cases
  • It is pretty inexpensive
  • It is easy to find and most of them don’t require special fitting
  • Because it helps to treat soft palate vibration, there is also a chance that it could help with sleep apnea

The Negatives

Obviously, as with any product, there are also a few negatives associated with the Tongue Retaining Device…

  • It is a little bit invasive in the sense that you need to keep it in your mouth whenever you sleep
  • It can be difficult to adjust to
  • In particularly troublesome cases of snoring, it might not provide as much help as a mandibular advancement device
  • It can cause a bit of soreness and dryness in the tongue, especially at first

Who Should Wear It, And When Should It Be Worn?

A lot of these products are made specifically for adults, ages 18 and over. So anyone in that age range could definitely make use of them. Unlike mandibular advancement devices, which have a few restrictions for who can wear them, the Tongue Retaining Device can pretty much be worn by anyone.

As far as when it should be worn – your best bet, with this type of device, is to wear it consistently every night. It can take a while for you to get used to how it feels and works… and for the first few nights, it may even cause a bit of soreness or dryness.

But for the most part, a lot of people overcome these issues within the first two weeks.

Who Should Avoid This Type Of Device?

People who have a tongue that is too short to reach outside of the lips comfortably will probably not benefit much from this type of a device, as this would tend to keep it from working properly without a lot of discomfort.

Nasal obstruction explained

The device also tends to not work so well with people who deal with a lot of nasal obstruction. Since a lot of these types of devices actually promote nasal breathing as well, blocked nasal passages could lead to an even worse problem, as it would make breathing in-general a more difficult endeavor.

Who Invented the TRD?

The TRD was invented by a man named Charles Samelson, MD. According to reports, he was inspired to create the device based on his own snoring problems. His wife, an accomplished piano player, also supplied plenty of motivation for him to investigate a remedy for the problem, as she swore that the noises he made during sleep were affecting her ‘musical ear.’ She was also suffering from fragmented sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness as a results of the noise!

Dr. Samelson got his first break in the invention of the device when he realized that he could ‘imitate’ his snoring sounds while awake by allowing the base of his tongue to fall back against his throat. This led him to believe that the snoring was being caused by an airway obstruction.

Initial models of the device were built and tested using beeswax… but eventually, latex prototypes were developed. When he discovered a design that actually worked, he applied for a patent. The first article to hit the journals in reference to the TRD came out in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1982.

Dr. Samelson also presented his initial findings at the exact same scientific meeting where Dr. Colin Sullivan introduced the CPAP!

Are There Any Scientific Studies to Back Up the TRD?

One of the most well-known papers on the TRD was published in 2009. It was titled The Tongue-Retaining Device: Efficacy and Side Effects in Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome, and it outlined a study in which the tongue retaining device was tested for its efficacy in treating OSAS.

In conclusion, the tongue retention device was found to be about as effective as a mandibular advancement device. It was suggested that teams trained in tongue-retaining device fabrication may propose it as an alternative to CPAP in appropriate cases, though it was also pointed out that nasal obstruction should be taken into consideration as a ‘contraindication.’

In other words, the TRD did not seem to help snoring cases where nasal obstruction was an issue (as we mentioned earlier in this post). But, in most average cases of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, it proved to be a suitable alternative to CPAP in cases where CPAP didn’t do the trick.

A lot of people do not know these things about the tongue retaining device, as the mandibular advancement device has received more media coverage than the TRD. This is not as true lately, however. In recent years, the TRD has enjoyed a renewed ‘surge’ in popularity.

Side Effects: Are They Really That Bad?

Some people have complained that TRDs can cause a range of side effects. None of these seem to be ‘serious,’ but some of them are serious enough that they can make it more difficult to stick with the device.

Some side effects include a general feeling of discomfort due to having a foreign object in the mouth during sleep, pain, excessive salivation, and excessive mouth dryness. It has also been reported that some people simply do not like it because of the way it looks.

Studies seem to indicate that nasal obstructions can make the device feel uncomfortable, as TRDs actually do hinder mouth-breathing. If you need to breathe through your mouth to get enough oxygen while you sleep, then a TRD may not be the right device for you.

Could TRDs Provide A Suitable Alternative to CPAP?

CPAP is the ‘go to’ treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. Now, with that being said, a lot of TRDs on the market today are actually not marketed for use with OSA… mostly because they have not been FDA cleared to treat it.

However, tongue retaining devices have been tested on patients suffering from Sleep Apnea, and they have absolutely been considered as a possible alternative for people who could not, for one reason or another, continue their CPAP treatments.

CPAP intolerance is actually a fairly common problem. As it turns out, it is quite difficult to adjust to this type of a device—and some people just don’t end up sticking with it long term. This is where MADs (Mandibular Advancement Devices) and TRDs (Tongue Retaining Devices) come into the picture.

Would a TRD be a good option for people who can’t get CPAP to work for them? It is absolutely possible, but it also depends on your specific case.

One interesting trend that we’ve noticed in studies is that TRDs seem to have a slightly lower rate of compliance than MADs. If you look at these numbers without any additional context, it would appear that more people stick with MADs long-term. But at the same time, there are other factors to consider.

For example, in this study, it is clearly stated that MAD surveys were carried out with mail-in questionnaires, while TRD surveys were conducted by telephone. This may have resulted in more dissatisfied non-users per-capita reporting their opinions for the TRD than for the MAD.

Obviously, this is not the only study to look at. But… it is an example of rates of compliance, and as far as we can tell, it would seem that TRDs and MADs come pretty close to being equally tolerable by those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea… and it is certainly clear that both of these perform better in terms of compliance than CPAP therapy.

Tips For Someone Shopping For a TRD

If you plan to go shopping for a tongue retaining device, there are definitely a few bits of advice to heed if you want to get away with the best possible device for you.

First of all, always do your research! There are a number of TRDs on the market today, and not all of them are created equal. Most of them will work to a point, but there are definitely some that are more likely to work than others.

So do yourself a favor and read-up on reviews before making a purchase.

Another thing to look for is a money back guarantee. We are always a bit leery of companies that don’t offer a guarantee with their product… and find that most of the finest anti-snoring devices come from businesses who believe enough in their product to offer one.

Another thing to look out for is FDA approval. This is not the end-all factor to judge your purchase on, but FDA approval is an upside and something to check for as you shop.

And finally, you should always take price into consideration. With TRDs, you often get what you pay for… so be careful of devices that cost less than $50! We are not saying that these devices won’t work, but we can tell you that our best experiences have been with products somewhere in the $100 price range, give or take a little bit.

Who Can You Ask About a Tongue Retaining Device If You Have Questions?

If you have questions about whether or not this is the right type of device for you, you should definitely consider speaking to your physician. If your doctor doesn’t know much about them, then it may actually be a good idea to speak with a sleep specialist.

The thing about snoring is that you really want to make sure that you’re not suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a pretty dangerous condition, and it shouldn’t go untreated.

If your snoring is pretty severe, you may want to talk to your doctor about scheduling a sleep study, and then go from there to make sure that you don’t need to get started on CPAP. He/she may want to prescribe CPAP therapy to start with if you do end up testing positive for OSA.

The important takeaway here is simply this: talking to your doctor is important if you are suffering from moderate to severe snoring!

Even if you aren’t suffering from any of the classic symptoms of OSA, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t experiencing it to a mild degree.

Don’t Let Your Snoring Get Out of Hand

Snoring may not seem like a super-serious problem… but it can be. Far too many people suffer from it silently, without ever seeking treatment—and the effects can be quite detrimental! Relationships suffer, individual health suffers, and even your performance during the day can suffer from the lack of sleep it creates.

Snoring isn’t just a nuisance. So even if it just seems like a small problem, get it fixed now so that it doesn’t get any worse.

For some people, a TRD can act as the perfect remedy! But also remember that everyone is different, and that it may take a bit of trial-and-error to find the perfect treatment option for you.

We usually put MADs and TRDs into ‘very similar’ categories, but that does not mean that they are ‘always’ similar. Some people have better experiences with one than the other. The best way to figure out which will work better for you is to give each one of them a test-run.

Final Thoughts

All things considered, tongue retaining devices are actually one of our favorite stop-snoring devices. If you are looking for a device with a relatively proven track record that has a really good chance of helping you with your snoring problem, then this is probably a category of devices that you should be looking seriously at.

They are also less invasive than MADs, but still operate with a similar basic principle… making them an awesome option for people who are intimidated by full-sized mouthpieces.

Updated: 1.23.2019

References: 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/40448021

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1046/j.1440-1819.2002.01003.x

Josh Sigafus Editor

Joshua Sigafus is just a writer trying to make the world a better place. You can find him on Facebook.