The Role of Orthodontics in Treating Sleep Apnea and Snoring

Imagine that your breathing is interrupted every night 50 to 100 times per hour, night after night, for the rest of your life. Your partner says your snoring and restlessness are keeping them awake much of the night, too. The irony is that most of the time you believe you are asleep through it all, but you are exhausted, forgetful, and irritable during the day. Every day. What’s happening to you?

This cycle, known as sleep apnea, is characterized by a lack of deep sleep along with long-term oxygen deprivation. It’s not simply an annoyance; it is destructive and can be fatal. Before it reaches that stage, sufferers have an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac arrest, Alzheimer’s disease, and strokes. Obesity is also often a result, due to hormonal changes leading to increased appetite.

After your partner finally has had enough and sends you to your doctor, you may also be referred to an orthodontist. Now, you’re really confused! Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

In this article, we break down exactly what sleep apnea is and how snoring relates to it, and then examine the role of orthodontic treatments for sleep apnea and snoring.


Sleep Apnea Defined

According to the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics, sleep apnea is a problem for an estimated 18 million people in the U.S., which equals about 20% of the population. However, around 85% of those people haven’t been officially diagnosed with the disorder. Many sufferers do just that–suffer–with it and are never diagnosed. 

Others are diagnosed only after their symptoms worsen with age and increased weight. And many sleepless nights. When your sleep is interrupted like this every night, you will be drowsy during the day. You are at a higher risk for accidents of all kinds as well as other medical problems. 

So, what exactly happens with sleep apnea? Your breathing becomes very shallow or even stops during sleep. Sufferers stop breathing for several seconds or even several minutes. And it happens over and over throughout the night.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common type (OSA). Your airway actually collapses or becomes blocked during sleep. Many sufferers snore loudly, too, though not all experience snoring. Normal breathing only starts again with a snort or choking sound.  Sleep apnea can be fatal, with an estimated 38,000 people dying every year in the U.S. from complications related to it.


Orthodontic Treatments For Sleep Apnea

So, your medical doctor has referred you to an orthodontist for recommendations and possible treatments to address this dangerous problem. You still aren’t clear on how your teeth and mouth affect your sleep and snoring at night. Let’s find out.

After examining you and analyzing any test results ordered, your physician may believe your sleep apnea can be helped by repositioning your teeth or jaws. To determine that for sure, you would be referred to an orthodontist. The most qualified person to assess your situation and then provide the treatment if necessary is an orthodontist endorsed by the American Association of Orthodontists

The orthodontist may agree that you are suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This means the muscles in the back of the throat relax too much during sleep. These muscles support parts of the throat, including the tonsils, the tongue, and the walls of the throat. When you sleep, these muscles relax and the airway narrows or closes completely as you breathe in. Oxygen is cut off due to this narrowing or closure until the brain reacts and causes you to gasp or wake up so you can breathe in again.

There are two primary ways of correcting this situation, orthodontic solutions and surgical solutions:

Orthodontic Solutions

Orthodontists use oral devices that keep airways open during sleep. These devices include:

Mandibular Advancing Appliances 

These devices move the teeth into the correct alignment and out of the airway. Sometimes also referred to as a mandibular advancement splint, this device widens the airway by moving the lower jaw downward and forward when you sleep.

Clear Aligners

One major contributing factor to sleep apnea is the misalignment of teeth. Clear aligners like Invisalign can often be used for minor malocclusions to gently move the teeth over time into proper alignment. This treatment option can, in both adults and teenagers, significantly reduce sleep apnea symptoms as well as other oral health issues.


Tongue Retaining Device

By holding the tongue in a slightly forward position, this device prevents it from falling back against the airway during sleep. It also keeps the airway tissue from vibrating, which is what causes snoring.


CPAP Machine

Though not considered an orthodontic device, it is worth mentioning since it is one of the most common treatments for sleep apnea that your medical doctor would prescribe. The continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine uses air pressure to keep the airways open as you sleep. A CPAP machine uses a hose connected to a mask or nosepiece to deliver the pressure needed. 


Surgical Solutions

With severe obstructive sleep apnea, surgery may be indicated. This is the case for patients who can’t tolerate orthopedic devices in the mouth at night and can’t (or won’t) use a CPAP machine for some reason.

The benefits of any treatment for sleep apnea are great, but this is especially true for the orthodontic treatments covered above. Patients can relax as they sleep without the constant interruption of waking up as well as the lack of oxygen that can lead to serious medical issues and even death. Plus, they function better during the day because they have had adequate restorative sleep at night. And their partner will be able to sleep, too!


An Orthodontist Can Help You Overcome Sleep Apnea and Snoring

Sleep apnea is marked by repeated and frequent waking during the night. It is caused by blockage of the airways until the patient gasps for air or chokes and begins breathing again. Snoring often accompanies sleep apnea. Both disrupt deep sleep with the result of drowsiness during the day. This disorder can be fatal.

But, your medical doctor and an orthodontist often work together to uncover the best way to utilize orthodontics for sleep apnea, trying a variety of devices in the mouth to keep the airway open during the night. Surgery is indicated only in more severe cases. 

The professional, experienced team here at Swiatek Orthodontics supports this joint effort and we are ready to assist in identifying this problem as soon as possible. We can then work with you to find the right solution for your situation.

Regain control of your life. Contact us today to learn more about our orthodontic treatments or to set an appointment!