Oral health professionals such as dentists and orthodontists are often the first people to come into contact with those who suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a debilitating condition in which a person stops breathing at numerous intervals throughout the night, resulting in a lack of oxygen in the body.
Sleep apnea can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease and even early death, not to mention an increased risk for accidents as a result of daytime fatigue. Although orthodontists can’t diagnose sleep apnea, they can screen you for the condition. But can your orthodontist treat your sleep apnea?
Changing the Position of Teeth May Help Sleep Apnea
There are different types of sleep apnea, with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) being more common. During obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles surrounding the airway can collapse and block air flow. In some cases, the tongue blocks the airway and prevents breathing.
Some patients who suffer from sleep apnea can benefit by changing the position of their teeth to allow the tongue to sit properly in the mouth and improve airflow . This is where orthodontic treatment would come in. However, not every case of sleep apnea or every patient will benefit from orthodontics as a form of treatment. In these cases, oral appliance therapy may help.
Oral Appliance Therapy Can Improve Sleep Apnea
An oral appliance is a device similar to a retainer that is worn at night and helps keep the tongue in position and moves the jaw slightly forward, which helps prevent airway blockages while you are asleep .
Oral appliances are quiet, simple devices, unlike continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, which have long been considered the standard for treating obstructive sleep apnea.
While oral appliance therapy has many benefits, it won’t be the right form of treatment for every patient, just as orthodontics won’t apply to every case. However, for patients that qualify, oral appliance therapy can dramatically improve their quality of life by reducing their sleep apnea symptoms. Your orthodontist can have an oral appliance specifically made for your unique smile to be a comfortable and effective form of treatment if you qualify.
Malocclusions Resulting From Long-Term Therapy May Require Treatment
If you need long-term sleep apnea treatment, wearing an oral appliance for sleep apnea over time may change the position of your teeth. Fortunately, orthodontists can help manage these changes while still ensuring your sleep apnea is being treated .
Your orthodontist can work with your physician to coordinate treatment for your sleep apnea and work with you to manage your ongoing care. Orthodontists are often instrumental in helping patients get a sleep apnea diagnosis, as they can refer them to a specialist for an official diagnosis and treatment plan.
Orthodontists Can Screen You for Sleep Apnea
Remember that your orthodontist can screen you for sleep apnea, so if you’re having symptoms, such as daytime fatigue, headaches, snoring, or dry mouth, don’t hesitate to follow up with your oral healthcare professional.