How Can Airway Orthodontics Help You?

There’s nothing better than a good night of sleep. Sleeping deeply and restfully helps you prepare for the day ahead by recharging your batteries so you can do your best. Unfortunately, up to one in five people worldwide struggle nightly with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a breathing disorder where those suffering stop breathing hundreds of times per night from seconds to minutes at a time, thereby majorly missing out on high-quality sleep! At Hunter Family Orthodontics, we are able to treat OSA with cutting-edge technology and airway orthodontics, but what exactly is sleep apnea, and how can you tell if you have it? Read on to learn how airway orthodontic treatment can help you and your family breathe easy.

The basics of sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout a night. This often occurs when abnormalities in the oral air passages cause the soft tissues and tongue to block the body’s airways, preventing you from getting the oxygen you need. Breathing stops for a few seconds, causing the brain to send out a “wake up” alarm to the body. When normal breathing resumes, it’s often accompanied by choking, loud snoring, or a snorting sound. 

This process is sometimes repeated dozens of times each night, but since the patient is sleeping when it happens, they are often unaware anything out of the ordinary is occurring. Many feel exhausted daily and wonder why it feels like they’re running on empty even if they get a full night’s sleep. Some don’t realize anything is amiss until a partner or family member mentions their snoring or choking! 

Obesity, excessive alcohol use, and certain medications may contribute to or worsen sleep apnea, but it may also be related to your specific sleep habits or jaw structure. There are certain symptoms associated with this sleep disorder, if you know what you’re looking for. Aside from the aforementioned snoring, choking, and snorting while sleeping, these often include:

  • excessive drowsiness during the day
  • feeling like you never get a good night’s sleep
  • lack of REM sleep or dreams

As well as being an annoyance, sleep apnea can cause or contribute to health issues like high blood pressure and heart problems. The good news is, something as simple as a dental appliance can help resolve these frustrating symptoms and side effects!

Diagnosing sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is more common than you might think, affecting about one out of every five Americans. Out of the dozens of patients we see daily here at Hunter Family Orthodontics, anywhere from 30-50% are likely to be affected by sleep apnea. That’s why our The Woodlands practice performs proper, thorough screenings for this disorder! Our team is familiar with the common signs and symptoms, and we look at everything from teeth wear and tongue position to airway size and dental occlusion to determine if there are any risk factors present for sleep apnea. 

Once we have completed a screening evaluation, patients suspected of having obstructive sleep apnea will be asked to fill out a thorough questionnaire. This gives us more information on their sleeping habits, fatigue levels, snoring or choking, and any episodes they can remember where they stopped breathing while sleeping. If there are significant risk factors present, we will generally recommend they have an official sleep test performed at home or in a lab. The results from this will give us the critical date we need to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. With a diagnosis in place, Dr. Hunter can move forward with treatment! 

Using oral appliances and technology to resolve obstructive sleep apnea

Oral appliances are able to resolve mild to moderate sleep apnea in most patients. After initial diagnosis with our team, we will refer you to either a sleep physician or an ENT who will, among other tests, perform a minimally-intrusive 3D digital airway analysis. This scan gives us measurements that will show any anatomical narrowing of the airway. We send this information to a laboratory where a customized palate-expanding appliance will be fashioned for each patient based on their specific needs. This appliance gently widens the upper jaw over time, thereby making more room for air to travel down the patient’s throat.

Our team will ensure the fit is correct before sending patients home with detailed instructions. We’ll generally follow up within two weeks to check that the patient is utilizing the device properly and finding some relief with it. If any adjustments are needed, we’ll work these out until the patient is getting the maximum benefit from their appliance! At this point, we’ll often repeat their sleep test to make sure their sleep apnea is being treated successfully. 

If Dr. Hunter determines that it might help your case, he might refer you to an ENT practice to evaluate you for tonsil or adenoid removal. In many cases, these glands and tissues can swell up and restrict airflow through the throat, causing even patients with wide-open palates to experience symptoms of sleep apnea. Dr. Hunter can also refer you to a sleep physician for a sleep study, which may be useful if you need further diagnosis. 

Additionally, Hunter Family Orthodontics teams with a myofunctional therapist, or a doctor who specializes in treating muscular and functional disorders of the face and mouth. Our myofunctional therapist can create an individualized program to retrain your orofacial muscles and improve their function. Some goals of your training might include normalizing the resting posture for your tongue and lips, establishing nasal breathing patterns, or eliminating harmful habits like thumb-sucking.

An expertly fitted device will help patients improve their sleep and enjoy better health in general! It can also reduce the risk factors for other medical conditions and complications. 

Get a good night’s sleep again with Hunter Family Orthodontics

Are you tired of feeling, well, tired? We can help! Diagnosing and treating obstructive sleep apnea can change your life and leave you feeling rested and energized each morning. Our customized oral appliances are simple to use while you sleep, and restore your breathing without cumbersome masks and machines. If you are suffering from symptoms associated with sleep apnea, we encourage you to get in touch and schedule an appointment with us. Dr. Hunter and our talented team will be happy to help you take the first steps towards quiet nights of restful sleep for you and your whole family!