One of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle is good quality sleep. Not getting enough sleep, more specifically, not enough REM sleep, can have significant negative impacts on your body and impact your concentration, thinking, and mood.
Being able to properly breathe while you are sleeping is a huge part of being able to get a full night’s rest. Unfortunately, many adults and children struggle with this. One of the most common causes of disrupted sleep is sleep apnea, affecting over 30 million Americans.
For those affected, sleep apnea significantly impacts breathing during sleep. This is because the soft tissues and muscles within the throat overly relax, causing blockages of the airway. Regarding treatment, a very common question is if orthodontics can help with sleep apnea?
The short answer is yes, in some cases, your orthodontist can help significantly reduce or eliminate the effects of sleep apnea. The alignment and shape of the teeth and jaws (specifically the misalignment) have been connected to sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
In this article, we’ve broken down what exactly sleep apnea is, its connection to orthodontic problems, and some effective orthodontic treatments for sleep apnea that can help.
What is Sleep Apnea Exactly?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder/medical condition where breathing is repeatedly stopped while sleeping. There are three different types of sleep apnea. First, the most common type is known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With OSA, the muscles and soft tissue in the mouth and throat overly relax while sleeping and the airway significantly narrows, causing a blockage. This blockage sends a signal to the brain to use the nose to breathe and this transition can cause short-term sleep deprivation that can happen many times per hour. The pauses in breathing can last for a few seconds or even a few minutes and are usually followed by a loud snoring episode.
Another type of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea (CSA) is caused by nervous system/brain issues and affects the control of breathing. Finally, complex sleep apnea (aka mixed sleep apnea) is a combination of OSA and CSA and is usually more serious.
Sleep apnea affects both the sufferer, due to a significant reduction in sleep quality, and those who share a bed or room with the sufferer.
Sleep apnea symptoms include:
- Pauses in breathing while sleeping
- Gasping or choking for air while asleep
- Loud and/or frequent snoring
- Insomnia (trouble falling asleep or waking up frequently)
- Tiredness during the day
- Mood swings and irritability
Health complications caused by sleep apnea include:
Not only does sleep apnea cause decreasing oxygen levels, but it can cause other health complications, including:
- Prolonged fatigue
- Weight Gain
- High Blood pressure
The Connection Between Orthodontic Problems & Sleep Apnea
Muscle and neurological issues are not the only things that can cause sleep apnea. Certain orthodontic issues can play a huge role as well. Tooth or jaw misalignment, a narrow palate, or similar issues can cause this sleep disorder. When your sleep apnea is caused by an oral or jaw matter, your orthodontist can be the answer you are looking for to help relieve symptoms. They will determine the best orthodontic treatment for your sleep apnea and can fit you with a device most suitable for the exact issue. Orthodontics can be used to correct malocclusions that affect bite configuration, jaw formation and alignment, and other orthodontic concerns.
Orthodontic Treatment Options Used for Sleep Apnea
An ENT or sleep specialist will be the one to definitively/properly diagnose a case of sleep apnea. But, orthodontists have the expertise in facial growth and development that allows them to identify sleep-related breathing disorders in patients of all ages and help treat them. They are also trained to guide the development of various facial structures in young patients.
For sleep apnea, treatment will depend on the type, causes, and severity of the condition. But, in general, there are a few different orthodontic treatment options that can help:
The misalignment of teeth is a major contributing factor to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). For minor malocclusions, clear plastic aligners like Invisalign, are used to gently apply force to the teeth over time, bringing them into proper alignment. In both adults and teenagers, this treatment option can significantly reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea as well as other oral health issues.
Oral Appliance Therapy
Many adults who suffer from OSA have found relief using a custom removable oral appliance that is worn at night. The most common appliance that is used is known as a mandibular advancement splint (aka mandibular advancement device). This oral appliance gently brings the position of the lower jaw and tongue forward during sleep, helping to maintain an open and unobstructed airway.
Rapid Palatal Expander (RPE)
A rapid palatal expander device is another orthodontic treatment option that can be very successful in some cases of sleep apnea, especially in children. This device is a small, metal framework that fits into the roof of the patient’s mouth and is used to expand or widen the upper palate and jaw. Expanding the upper jaw directly affects the floor of the nasal cavity, helping to increase airflow and make breathing easier. A wider upper palate can also help with other habits related to sleep apnea like jaw clenching and teeth grinding.
Corrective Jaw Surgery
For patients who suffer from moderate to severe OSA, orthodontic surgery (known as orthognathic surgery) can often provide a significant reduction or elimination of symptoms. Corrective orthognathic surgery for sleep apnea is usually conducted in stages and the full treatment plan can take between a few months to one year or more, depending on the case.
The most common corrective jaw surgery to relieve sleep apnea symptoms is Maxillomandibular Advancement (MMA). During this procedure, the upper and lower jawbones are adjusted to properly reposition the palate and tongue, widening the upper airway to provide unobstructed breathing. In addition to improved breathing and sleep quality, when treatment is complete many orthognathic surgery patients also enjoy improved oral function and appearance.
Partner With Cook & Gutsche Orthodontics for You or Your Child’s Sleep Apnea
As you can see, if you or your child are struggling with sleep apnea, several different orthodontic treatments may be able to help relieve symptoms and finally allow for a good night’s sleep. Here at Cook & Gutsche Orthodontics in Springfield, Dr. Cook and Dr. Gutsche both have the knowledge and experience to identify the signs of sleep apnea in patients of all ages and help treat it.
We utilize the latest orthodontic treatments to help offer the relief you are looking for. If you or your child are suffering from sleep apnea and interested in options of possible treatment, contact us today to schedule a complimentary consultation!