How Orthodontics Affects Your Dental Patient’s Sleep Apnea

Professional orthodontics can open airways and address sleep apnea.

If you’re a dentist looking to expand your practice, you may be considering including orthodontics. As we know, the field of orthodontics is not only associated with aesthetics. Its importance in treating sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, is also increasing.

Sleep apnea affects an estimated 22 million Americans, and that doubtless includes many of your patients—and not just the adult ones. Professional orthodontics can open airways and make a huge difference to your patients’ quality of life.

Join us as we take a closer look at this condistion. We’ll look at its causes and symptoms, and how orthodontics can transform lives. 

What causes sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea causes breathing to stop and start while a person is sleeping. The brain wakes you up to take a breath, but this cycle makes it impossible to get a good night’s sleep.

The main types of this condition are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): the airway becomes blocked when the throat muscles relax.
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA): the brain doesn’t control breathing properly while you are asleep.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome (CompSAS): a combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form. In adults, the most common causes are obesity, naturally narrow airways, nasal congestion, and a wide neck circumference. Orthodontic issues can also narrow the airways, causing sleep apnea. 

Pediatric sleep apnea can result from obesity, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

Orthodontic Causes of Sleep Apnea

Craniofacial structure, malocclusion, and palatal morphology are all associated with OSA. Overjet has also been noted in OSA patients who are not obese. Dental arch issues and tooth misalignment can also impact on breathing during sleep.

In pediatric sleep apnea, orthodontic issues such as a small jaw or overbite can also contribute to this problem. 

What symptoms are common in this condition?

One of the most common symptoms associated with this condition is loud snoring, but not everyone with sleep apnea has this problem.

Your patient’s partner may report that they audibly stop breathing while sleeping. They may also notice that they’re gasping for air during the night or waking up with a headache.

This condition has a very detrimental impact on people’s general quality of life. The body cannot remain in deep sleep, meaning that sleep is no longer restful. This, in turn, leads to daytime drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, and low mood. 

Pediatric sleep apnea often exhibits itself as unsettled behavior during the day, due to lack of deep sleep.

How can orthodontics improve sleep apnea?

Orthodontics help with this condition in two ways. Some treatments remove obstructions to the airways; others reposition the jaw to prevent airways from becoming obstructed.

This condition can only be diagnosed by a physician. However, a dentist can supply customized treatment with an oral appliance. And a general practitioner who offers orthodontics can make a big difference as they help to correct misalignment and malocclusion issues that could be contributing to the patient’s sleep apnea. Collaboration between medical professionals is vital to achieving the best outcomes for patients.

Dentists need to be alert to any symptoms mentioned by patients or caregivers. Patients may not have a diagnosis but may present with concerns about breathing during sleep. An orthodontic check-up may reveal the need for evaluation by a doctor. Dentists can use the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) or STOP-BANG assessments. This will help them to identify patients who are likely to be suffering from sleep apnea.

Orthodontic Treatment for Sleep Apnea

Many cases of OSA can be treated with an oral appliance, also known as a mandibular advancement splint. The appliance moves the lower jaw slightly forward, which prevents the upper airway from becoming obstructed during sleep. As a bonus side effect, this can also reduce snoring.

If misaligned teeth have been identified as contributing to a patient’s sleep apnea, braces and aligners can help. This treatment takes time, but it’s a permanent solution to the problem and can be effective for treating both adult and pediatric OSA.

A narrow jaw can cause constricted airways, another symptom that can lead to sleep apnea. A palatal expander can be used in both children and adults to treat this issue. It expands the upper jaw and base of the nasal cavity, which makes breathing easier for the patient.

In severe cases of OSA, surgical orthodontic treatment may be needed. This usually requires several small surgeries to reposition the bones in the jaw, the tongue, and the palate. The result is widened airways, which allow the patient to breathe much more easily.

CPAP vs Orthodontics

It is widely accepted that CPAP machines are the most effective treatment for OSA. The problem is correct use and compliance. Additionally, some users cannot tolerate the CPAP machine and need to seek alternative treatments. 

Oral appliances are generally well accepted by patients. They are easy to remove and allow for mouth breathing. This higher level of compliance can make them an effective treatment for even severe cases of OSA.

Braces and palate expanders have the advantage of providing permanent results and are also well tolerated by most patients.

How can orthodontics for sleep apnea benefit your practice?

Physicians’ understanding of the role of orthodontics in the treatment of OSA is growing. When they are looking for a qualified, local practice to refer their patients to, you want to be ready. Training in sleep apnea for dentists is crucial. It can give you the confidence to work with referring physicians and select the most effective treatments for patients.

Insurers may cover the cost of treatments related to this condition, so it’s important to be ready to accept this. Opening up to insurance patients can lead to ongoing treatment for years to come.

Oral health checks for patients using CPAP machines can also form part of your sleep apnea dentistry offering.

Start treating sleep apnea with orthodontics.

Patients appreciate being able to visit a comprehensive dental practice. If you’re a general dentist or pediatric dentist, adding orthodontics can take your practice to the next level. Adding sleep apnea treatments gives you an even wider reach. It’s been called the greatest opportunity for dentists since tooth whitening. Are you ready to jump on board?

At the American Orthodontic Society, we have the right orthocourse for you. Our wide range of courses can help current dentists expand their technical and clinical knowledge. We can help you to achieve your professional goals by expanding your practice. View our range of courses today!

To learn more about our popular orthodontics courses for pediatric and general dentists, check out one of the upcoming events below.

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