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The Basics on Airway Orthodontics & Sleep Apnea

Posted in Adults, Airway, Children, General, Orthodontics, Treatment Process

Are you or your child experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea? There may be an issue we can address with airway orthodontics. Our BC orthodontists discuss the basics of both in this post. 

What causes sleep apnea?

If you find it difficult to make it through the day without a nap no matter what time you go to bed, or have noticed a shift in your mood and are more irritable and depressed - seemingly without explanation - you may be suffering from more than a wayward sleep schedule or "the blues". The problem may actually be sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious medical issue and sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops for 10 or more seconds while an individual sleeps. The brain will force the person to wake up again briefly to breathe, disrupting deep sleep and sometimes causing snoring. These pauses in breathing are called apneas. 

Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most common types of this disorder and is characterized by blockages in the airway due to enlarged tonsils (a marker of obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA) or other airway issues.

The condition can negatively impact short-term and long-term mental, emotional and physical health. Both children and adults can experience symptoms.

For children with OSA, typical symptoms include restless sleep, behavioural issues such as inattention, crankiness or hyperactivity, and snoring.

If you or your child are experiencing signs of sleep apnea or have been diagnosed with the condition, our orthodontists at My ORTHODONTIST can assess symptoms and determine whether airway-focused orthodontics treatment could help.

Today, we'll explore the link between airway orthodontics and sleep apnea, and explain what your dentist can do for you.

Airway Orthodontics

Some patients with OSA may have a narrow airway that can more easily become blocked. Depending on the circumstances of the patient with sleep apnea, maxillary expansion may help to improve airway function. It's often helpful for orthodontic treatment to be done in conjunction with monitoring by a physician and objective sleep testing to identify other potential underlying causes, so they can be diagnosed and effectively addressed.  

Airway problems, nasal obstructions and sleep disturbances can negatively affect our general physical, emotional and mental health in the short-term and long-term, no matter our age. The good news is, orthodontists are well-positioned to help identify signs and symptoms, conduct risk assessments for patients, and educate patients about these conditions.

Early Orthodontics

Snoring in kids can also be caused by mild sleep-disordered breathing (which refers to any breathing problems during sleep). When it comes to treating children with sleep apnea, early orthodontics has an important role to play. That's why we recommend that every child visit the orthodontist for an initial assessment by age 7.

Here are some common orthodontic treatment options our orthodontists often recommend to help address sleep apnea and airway issues:

Palatal Expander or Other Appliance - For children, we might recommend a palatal expander, which can widen a narrow palate (roof of the mouth) and expand the airway. Other devices can train the tongue to stay in its proper position and prevent it from obstructing the airway.

Braces - If the jaw's position is interfering with your child's breathing, we may recommend braces to improve the bite and gradually shift the jaw into its correct alignment. 

Custom Mouthpiece - A custom oral appliance or dental device may be recommended for children with sleep apnea or sleep-disordered breathing. Some mouthpieces are made to be worn while your child sleeps to prevent the tongue from blocking the airway and to keep the jaw in a downward, forward position to ensure the airway stays open. This supports proper airflow. 

How can my orthodontist help with sleep apnea?

While only a physician can provide a definitive diagnosis of sleep apnea, orthodontists can help by performing routine risk assessments. Our orthodontists can screen for signs of OSA during your or your child's initial orthodontic assessment (which involves a thorough examination) when discussing medical history.

Our team may ask about snoring, whether you have witnessed your child gasp during sleep, and daytime sleepiness. We can also perform clinical and radiographic examinations to evaluate tonsils and adenoids. 

At My ORTHODONTIST, we advocate for a 2-phase approach to orthodontic treatment, starting with early orthodontics assessment and intervention. Braces, palatal expansion or Invisalign may help with sleep apnea and be used during the early intervention treatment phase to correct jaw positioning or alignment of teeth. These may also be an option for adults.

Many people ask if there is an age limit to orthodontic treatment. Our reply is always that we are here to treat orthodontic and airway issues for patients in every phase of life, from children to adults.

In addition, we also believe that orthodontics can offer solutions to preserve well-being throughout the body - not just the mouth and airways. Our team is able to assess individual risk factors and circumstances and work to establish an overall balance for dento-facial health while improving airway issues. 

Are you concerned about sleep apnea in yourself or your child? Contact our British Columbia orthodontists today to book an appointment for an initial assessment. We can determine whether airway issues are a problem.

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