Sleep apnea is a damaging condition that can contribute to daytime fatigue, high blood pressure, heart problems, Type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. If patients find that they snore loudly and are exhausted after a full night’s sleep, they may exhibit sleep apnea signs.
There are many treatment options for sleep apnea, including CPAP machines and other breathing apparatus. However, a less invasive method may also be used to treat sleep apnea. In some cases, especially in children, airway obstruction is caused by misaligned teeth.
Joseph Kunnel, an experienced orthodontist from Skokie, Illinois, shares how orthodontic treatment can help sleep apnea patients sleep better and live healthier lives.
What is Sleep Apnea?
There are three main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, where throat muscles relax too much; central sleep apnea, where the brain does not send the proper breathing signals; and complex sleep apnea syndrome, a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea causes a person to start and stop breathing frequently throughout the night. They typically disturb their family members who are trying to sleep at night. This is often the first sign that a person needs treatment for sleep apnea.
Causes of Sleep Apnea
Following are the major causes for the two primary types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the type most commonly treated through orthodontic intervention.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the muscles sited in the back of the throat relax too much. The muscles support the uvula, the soft palate, the tonsils, the tongue, and the inside walls of the throat. When these muscles relax, the airway closes or narrows as the patient breathes in. This can cause a lack of oxygen in the brain, prompting the brain to wake the patient up enough to reopen their airway.
Central Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea happens when the brain does not transmit the right message to the muscles. The body makes no effort to breathe for short periods of time.
Orthodontists like Joseph Kunnel are often the first professionals to recognize that an adult or child patient has sleep apnea. They regularly perform screenings for this condition in the course of a patient’s treatment.
If a patient is found to have sleep apnea, they would be referred to a specialist physician. The physician may recommend that the patient receive orthodontic treatment to keep the airways open during sleep.
Orthodontists use oral appliances to keep patients’ airways open during sleep. These devices include mandibular advancing oral appliances and tongue retaining devices. Mandibular advancing appliances hold the jaw and other tissues forward. This helps to keep the upper airway open.
Tongue retaining devices keep the tongue and other soft tissues from relaxing and obstructing the airway. Tongue retaining devices are approximately as effective as mandibular advancing oral appliances. This can mean that a tongue retaining device could be a less expensive and less invasive option than a CPAP machine.
If patients have severe obstructive sleep apnea, they may be candidates for mandibular advancement surgery. This could be an excellent alternative for patients who cannot tolerate oral appliances at night and cannot adhere to CPAP treatment.
Orthodontic Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children There are many options for treating child sleep apnea patients through orthodontic intervention. Early orthodontic treatment may help with abnormalities around the bony structures surround the airway. Early treatment could reverse the causes of obstructive sleep apnea in children as well as adults and adolescents.
Mandibular advancement surgery can also be used in children. Slow or rapid maxillary expansion surgery can also help expand the airway and reduce the risk of problems caused by obstructive sleep apnea.
Benefits of Treatment
The primary benefit of orthodontic treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is that patients can relax into deep and restorative sleep. Interrupted sleep and lack of oxygen can cause many serious problems, and when sleep apnea is treated, people can move forward with a healthier life.
As with all orthodontic treatments, movement of the teeth will occur with oral appliances. This may cause an undesired appearance in the mouth. A properly trained orthodontist will be able to help the patient compensate for these problems with further treatment.
Choosing the Right Orthodontist
When searching for an orthodontist who can help treat them or their children for sleep apnea, they should make sure that they find an experienced practitioner like Joseph Kunnel. These orthodontists work closely with sleep specialists and surgeons to help design a treatment plan to support healthy sleep in their patients.
Oral appliances may cause teeth to move. Non-orthodontic providers may not know about the unwanted effects of oral appliances on their patient’s teeth in the long term. Orthodontists can help manage the alignment of the teeth and make sure that unwanted side effects do not occur or can be repaired.