Sleep apnea is a common disorder affecting people in their day-to-day lives. It can wreak havoc in your personal and professional life. Symptoms of sleep apnea must be screened, diagnosed, and managed appropriately.
Fortunately, orthodontic treatment can help treat this disorder. Read on to find out how.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Apnea means a temporary pause in breathing. So, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where you pause your breathing intermittently during sleep. The pause lasts for more than 10 seconds.
This disruption in breathing results in a lack of oxygen supply, which alerts the brain and momentarily awakens you so you can resume breathing properly. This repeated starting and stopping of breath disrupts not only your sleep but also your partner’s.
Identifying the types of sleep apnea and their differences is the first step toward solving the problem. There are three different kinds of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): When you sleep, your airways narrow due to relaxed throat muscles. This makes breathing difficult. This is the most common form of sleep disorder.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA): The symptoms are similar to OSA. Here, the signals between the breathing muscles and the brain get disrupted. Central sleep apnea is, therefore, a sleep disorder resulting from a neurological reason.
- Mixed or complex sleep apnea syndrome: This diagnosis has only recently been identified, so it has yet to have an exact definition. It is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Research on this is still ongoing.
Signs And Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea
Around one billion people around the world suffer from OSA. The numbers are staggering. A typical symptom of sleep apnea is snoring. The majority of people who repeatedly snore in their sleep suffer from sleep apnea to some degree. However, this cannot be generalized- not all snorers have sleep apnea.
Here are other symptoms of sleep apnea:
- Drowsiness throughout the day
- Brain fog
- Chronic fatigue
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Persistent headaches upon waking up
- Gasping for breath in your sleep
- Teeth grinding
- Breathing through your mouth
- Nasal congestion
Sleep directly impacts the quality of your life. Sleep apnea leads to inadequate sleep and reduces your quality of life. So even though you have slept for an adequate amount of time, the quality of sleep is diminished, resulting in drowsiness during the day.
How Does Sleep Apnea Affect You?
Sleep apnea affects the entire body if left untreated. Some of the undesirable side effects of this sleep disorder are:
- Depression and anxiety
- Loss of vision
- Kidney diseases
- Increased blood pressure
- Bone loss
- Heart disease
- Sexual problems
Even though sleep apnea does not directly cause some of these issues, but it can make them worse for those with a predisposition for such conditions.
Orthodontic Causes Of Sleep Apnea
Among the orthodontic problems that can cause sleep apnea are:
- Teeth that are misaligned
- Jaws that are misaligned
- Issues with the dental arch
Orthodontists can prescribe sleep apnea devices when an orthodontic issue is causing it.
Can Orthodontic Treatment Help Sleep Apnea?
Yes. The position of the teeth, jaws, and their shape affect sleep disorders. According to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), the diagnosis of sleep apnea should be made exclusively by sleep physicians.
But dentists and orthodontists can perform an obstructive sleep apnea screening assessment to detect potential patients since they routinely check the upper airway while performing dental examinations.
An orthodontist may recommend one of three types of dental appliances for sleep apnea, depending on the specific orthodontic issue causing it.
Braces: Overcrowding, crooked and misaligned teeth can cause bite issues or teeth clenching. Sleep apnea is more likely to occur in people who grind their teeth during sleep. Braces can help fix this issue. These devices slowly move your teeth to their correct positions.
Palate expanders: Expanding the upper dental arch or jaw can help open up the airways. This is especially helpful in early orthodontic treatment for sleep apnea in children since their jaws and bones are still developing.
When the jaws are expanded and in the correct positions, they, in turn, reposition your palate and tongue. For this purpose, orthodontists usually recommend a rapid palate expander.
The appliance sits between the upper molars and is fixed using bands. It widens the dental arch, and the jaws sit comfortably. This enables uninterrupted breathing while asleep because when the palate is sufficiently wide it relaxes the nasal and sinus passages.
Mandibular advancement splint: This is a useful tool for treating sleep-related disorders. This custom-made device changes jaw alignment while you are asleep. It moves your lower jaw slightly ahead. This tightens the upper airway muscles and prevents them from being blocked while sleeping. When air passes over tissues in the upper airway, they vibrate causing snoring. This splint prevents the tissues from vibrating.
Can Braces Help With Sleep Apnea?
Yes. Braces and aligners effectively move your teeth to the correct position. If the cause of sleep apnea is overbite or misaligned teeth, then your orthodontist will recommend braces or aligners to help manage these conditions.
They will perform an OSA assessment; if you are at risk, you might even be referred to a physician for diagnostic evaluation.
Can Braces Make Sleep Apnea Worse?
No. The American Association of Orthodontists conducted a review to see if there is any correlation between wearing braces and the risk of sleep apnea. After examining around 4,000 scientific studies, they found no cases of sleep apnea arising from orthodontic treatments.
The quality of your life can be seriously affected by sleep apnea. The effects of untreated sleep apnea on your everyday life are manyfold. It reduces the quality of life and can even damage your relationships.
Even though orthodontists cannot diagnose or treat sleep apnea alone, they can work together with your physician. It is important for orthodontists to screen patients for sleep apnea and recommend oral appliance therapy if necessary.
Braces For Sleep Apnea – Can Braces Help Cure?
I feel very fortunate to have found a profession as rewarding as the field of Orthodontics! For over 20 years, I have enjoyed creating custom, beautiful smiles for our family of patients all over the Northern Virginia area. You can even find some of our loyal patients across the country and abroad!