Individuals who have sleep apnea are often unaware that they have the condition since they do not hear the loud snoring, and gasping sounds they make throughout the night. Nor do they realize they stop breathing several times in the midst of all this. However, if you are a spouse or a parent of someone with sleep apnea, you know all too well since their frightening sounds and terrifying breathing lapses keep you awake and worried night after night. And while that’s the viewpoint from your side of the bed, it’s no picnic for the seemingly sound-asleep individual next to you.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Apnea is a medical term that refers to interrupted breathing. The interruptions can range from a slowing of the breath to a complete cessation that lasts periods of 10 to 30 seconds. Classified as a sleep disorder, sleep apnea results in most cases when an airway becomes blocked or narrowed. Alternately it can be caused when the brain fails to send a signal to breathe. Since most cases occur during sleep, the condition has become known as sleep apnea.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and complex.

Obstructive Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage in the breathing passages. When enlarged tonsils interfere with the smooth operation of the muscles in the throat; and/or oversized adenoids block nasal passages sleep apnea can result.

Central Apnea

Central sleep apnea results when the area of the brain that controls breathing fails to function properly. The condition often affects premature babies whose brains have failed to reach full development. However, several brain and central nervous system problems can cause central apneas as well.

Complex Apnea Syndrome

This is a medical term for a combination of obstructive and central apnea. When a person has complex (mixed) apnea, it can occur during waking hours as well as during sleep.

Why a Person Might Have Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea results from any interference that interrupts natural breathing rhythms. The problem can be physical in origin as well as orthodontic.

Physical Causes of Sleep Apnea

In addition to the physical reasons mentioned above, sleep apnea can stem from overly relaxed throat or tongue muscles, excess weight, medications, alcoholic beverages, or side sleeping. But there are orthodontic causes as well.

Orthodontic Causes of Sleep Apnea

Although diagnosis and treatment of obstructive sleep apnea is not in an orthodontist’s realm, he or she is ideally positioned to spot dental factors even before they begin to impact sleep. These include:

  • Overbite
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Irregular mandibular jaw structure

While an orthodontist’s first course of action will be to refer the patient to a sleep disorder specialist, he may also recommend orthodontic solutions.

Sleep Apnea Orthodontics

If it’s determined that the root cause of sleep apnea is the position of the jaw or the teeth, an orthodontist can fit the patient with an appropriate oral appliance that will keep the breathing passages open and/or reposition the teeth. These include: 

  • Mandibular advancing appliances that progressively move the jaw and soft tissues forward. 
  • Tongue retaining devices that prevent the tongue and relevant soft tissues from relaxing 
  • Palate expanders to increase breathing space in young patients underdeveloped or narrow palates
  • Braces or aligners and elastics to correct an overbite by moving the lower jaw forward. 

In cases where oral appliances are not sufficient, a patient can be referred to an oral or maxillofacial surgeon for surgery to correct misaligned jaws and teeth.

If you suffer from sleep apnea caused by an overbite, misaligned teeth, or irregular mandibular jaw structure; contact Foley Wilde Orthodontics today for a consultation.