Using Orthodontics To Treat Sleep Apnea

Do you know which of your patients suffer from poor sleeping habits or are constantly restless at night? It is suspected that more than 22 million people in the U.S. struggle with sleep disorders like sleep apnea. What many people fail to realize is that sleep apnea doesn’t just affect you the next day; it causes a severe domino effect of medical conditions that can leave people feeling debilitated and medically compromised. Fortunately, dentists have a unique opportunity to diagnose, treat, and manage patients with sleep apnea using orthodontics.

Decades ago when patients reported symptoms of teeth clenching and snoring at night, dentists passed many of these cases off as being caused by anxiety. We now know that many sleep apnea symptoms are directly linked to the oral cavity, and there are simple orthodontic ways to treat patients in a way that alleviates their symptoms and improves their condition.

What causes sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea occurs when there is an interference with the upper airway, causing a restriction in breathing. If there is a partial or complete stop in airflow, this is known as obstructive sleep apnea. If the brain fails to send a signal to breathe, it is called central sleep apnea.

Risk factors like lifestyle habits and family history can increase your chance of sleep apnea, but other common associations include:

  • Premature birth
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Obesity
  • Genetic conditions like cleft lip and palate
  • Severe malocclusion

Many people have a narrow upper jaw because of chronic habits like thumb-sucking or prolonged bottle or pacifier use. While some patients naturally have a narrow upper jaw, these habits can constrict the maxilla, creating a more V-shaped palate.

When the palate is more V-shaped than U-shaped, it can indicate a smaller airway and a more-constricted path for oxygen exchange. At night, people end up compensating for this by clenching their teeth, snoring, and waking frequently.

What symptoms are common in sleep apnea?

A patient may not even disclose their sleep apnea symptoms to their dentist because they are simply unaware there is anything wrong. In fact, most people think it’s completely normal to snore loudly or have daytime fatigue.

When you take a continuing education course through Williams GP Orthodontic Seminars, you will learn the proper way to look for sleep apnea and how orthodontics can benefit your patients.

It is the dentist’s responsibility to ask the right questions during recall exams. A proper clinical evaluation is necessary to evaluate sleep apnea by looking for tongue-ties, abnormal wear, and palate shape.

Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Loud snoring
  • Grinding and clenching at night
  • Frequent waking to urinate
  • Excessive daytime fatigue
  • Apnea episodes during sleep
  • Headaches after waking

How can orthodontics improve sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea and orthodontics have a direct and positive relationship. Once you’re able to diagnose sleep apnea, one of the best things you can do to improve your patient’s quality of life is to treat their condition using orthodontics. Not only are you helping them achieve restful sleep, but you also helping them lead a healthier lifestyle overall.

The level of orthodontic treatment, of course, depends on each individual patient. Some helpful appliances include mandibular advancement devices (MADs) and tongue-retaining mouthpieces. MADs work by helping position the lower jaw and tongue more forward to open the airway. They are custom made and look similar to a sports mouth guard. A tongue-retaining mouthpiece helps the tongue remain in the proper position so it doesn’t block the airway during sleep.

Orthodontic treatment using braces or an expander is another way to correct a smaller upper jaw. Expansion creates room for all teeth in the arch, which in turn supports improved breathing. Continuing your education in this area is one of the first steps you can take to further understand jaw discrepancies and how to determine your patient’s optimal treatment. Learning how to use straight wire braces with Dr. Brad Williams will teach you how to treat Class I and II malocclusions, restricted maxillas, and crowding, all of which strongly contribute to sleep apnea complications.

Orthodontics is a wonderful tool you can offer to provide patients with a perfect smile, but even more importantly, you can help them avoid more serious long-term medical problems. Helping sleep apnea patients through orthodontics is great for mild to moderate cases. Your patients will thank you for helping them avoid more-involved treatment, such as surgical expansion and uncomfortable CPAP devices.

Expanding Your Services To Better Serve Your Patients

The field of airway dentistry is constantly evolving. And thanks to advanced dental treatment options offered by orthodontics, you can create perfect smiles and more enjoyable and fulfilling lives for your patients at the same time. Ready to get started? Take a look at our course menu here for upcoming seminars.