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Sleep, Airway, and Orthodontics: What Do I Need to Know?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which the airway is blocked or partially blocked while sleeping.  It is primarily due to narrowing or blockage of the airway during sleep.  There are many differences in both risk factors and treatment for pediatric and adult sleep apnea. 

What symptoms are associated with sleep apnea?

  • Snoring

  • Episodes of gasping for air while sleeping

  • Awakening with a dry mouth

  • Morning headaches

  • Difficulty staying asleep

  • Difficulty paying attention

  • Irritability

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (adults)

  • Behavioral problems (children)

  • Poor school performance (children)

    Children with sleep apnea may have a higher tendency for night terrors, bed wetting, and behavioral problems throughout the day whereas adults typically present with daytime sleepiness.

    What makes me or my child high risk for sleep apnea?

    Leading Pediatric Risk Factors:

  • Enlarged tonsils & adenoids

  • Down Syndrome

  • Abnormalities in the skull & face

  • Obesity

  • Sickle Cell

  • Neuromuscular Disease

  • History of low birth weight

  • Family history

    Leading Adult Risk Factors:

  • Excess Weight

  • Neck Circumference

  • Narrowed Airway

  • Male

  • Age

  • Family History

  • Alcohol, Sedatives, Tranquilizers

  • Smoking

  • Nasal Congestion

     

    How can an orthodontist help with my sleep apnea?

    Your orthodontist can be a key player in helping with the diagnosis and treatment of your sleep apnea. 

    At your initial exam we will have you complete a sleep questionnaire in order to better understand your level of sleep disturbance.  We will also take three-dimensional imaging of your airway in order to measure your airway volume, level of constriction, and assess other contributing variables. 

    If indicated we will refer you to either your family physician, ENT, or local sleep team for further diagnosis and/or testing.  It is imperative that you are thoroughly evaluated by an MD if sleep apnea is suspected.

    Some orthodontic appliances help decrease airway obstruction by either expanding the volume of the airway or repositioning the lower arch and tongue forward.  Examples include but are not limited to:

  • Maxillary expansion

  • Mandibular expansion

  • Mandibular repositioning devices

  • Orthodontics in conjunction with orthognathic surgery

    The goals of orthodontic treatment that focuses on the airway is to normalize the form and function of the patient in order to provide an optimal environment for a lifetime!

    What are my next steps if I want to talk about airway concerns?

    Call our office to schedule an initial consultation.  We would be more than happy to discuss your concerns and steer you in the right direction.