Can orthodontics help with sleep apnea?

As anyone who has ever dealt with sleep apnea can attest, it is a disorder that can cause many different problems.  Sleep apnea, in a nutshell, is “a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep.  People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times.  This means the brain — and the rest of the body — may not get enough oxygen.”

People who suffer from sleep apnea can be at higher risk for several serious health issues, such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart problems, diabetes, and more. However, the problems do not end there.  Think about a time in your own life when you suffered from sleep deprivation for a few nights.  Maybe it was because you worked late into the night or rose early to finish a project or perhaps it was to care for a new baby or a sick child.  Perhaps you were ill and found it difficult to sleep for more than a few hours at a time.  Did you feel distracted, irritable, and just generally tired?  Did you lack energy, motivation, and the ability to focus?  Imagine feeling that way for days, weeks, and even months on end.  This is a glimpse of life with sleep apnea.

Although many people don’t realize it, orthodontics can play a role in diagnosing and treating sleep apnea.  Frequent interaction between the orthodontist and patient plays a role in that.  In an article for the American Association of Orthodontists, Dr. G. Thomas Kluemper, associate professor and chief of the Division of Orthodontics at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, explained, “for many teens we are the only health professionals they will see for long periods of time – and we see them often. That puts the orthodontist in a unique relationship with our teen patients.

However, orthodontic involvement in sleep apnea can go well beyond the diagnostic stage.  In an article titled The Orthodontist and Sleep Apnea for the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics, Robert G. Keim, DDS, EDD, PhD., noted that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, which are a common form of treatment for sleep apnea, are difficult or even impossible for some patients to use. “Enter the orthodontist.  A variety of oral appliances, most of which are simple mandibular propulsors–functionally similar to activators or bionators–have been endorsed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.  Even a few millimeters of mandibular advancement during sleep may be enough to increase the functional cross-section of the mandible and produce relatively normal breathing patterns.”

Orthognathic surgery is also an option.  This type of corrective surgery, which addresses issues with the jaws, can provide relief for patients suffering from a variety of conditions, including sleep apnea.  However, if orthodontic measures can help solve the issues that are causing sleep apnea, orthognathic surgery would be unnecessary.

Sleep apnea is a serious problem.  If it is not treated, it can lead to other major health concerns.  The orthodontist can be an important part of the medical team to treat this serious health issue. The staff at Owl Orthodontics is happy to answer any questions or concerns you have regarding sleep apnea and your health.