Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes the person to have difficulty breathing while sleeping at night. It is a disruptive and even potentially dangerous sleep condition. It is characterized by loud snoring and pauses in breathing during deep sleep.
Sleep Apnea Causes
There are a few causes and risk factors for sleep apnea: genetics, being overweight, and certain anatomy of the jaw/mouth structure that may impact how likely you are to suffer from sleep apnea. The majority of sleep apnea cases are caused by airway obstruction, though it can also be a disorder with the brain called central sleep apnea.
Obstruction Sleep Apnea
An overbite is characterized by an upper and lower jaw that do not meet normally. While it is normal for the upper teeth to sit slightly in front of the lower, the gap should not be very noticeable and certainly should not cause you considerable issues at night when breathing. When the lower jaw sits further back than the upper the soft tissue parts attached like the tongue and palette could slide further back, disrupting normal airflow.
Larger features in the mouth
When a patient visits the orthodontist, they may be looking for large tonsils, uvula, or tongue. Large tonsils may fall back and restrict nighttime airflow. The same goes for a larger uvula and tongue. If the uvula rests on the tongue while relaxed, or the tongue sits above the back teeth, this may pose a problem, specifically if a patient tends to sleep on their back.
While an orthodontist cannot diagnose a patient with sleep apnea, they may recommend you see a sleep specialist. Following diagnosis, orthodontic treatment can help people who are dealing with sleep apnea symptoms.
Potential Orthodontic Solutions
Orthodontists typically cannot help as much if the cause of sleep apnea is central; however, an orthodontist can generally assist with symptomatic relief in the case of obstructive sleep apnea.
If the sleep apnea is generally a structural issue, patients may find symptomatic relief by slightly altering the jaw position. Orthodontists can adjust the patient's lower jaw so that it remains in the ideal position while sleeping. This process is completed with special appliances, or in some cases with orthodontic treatment including braces/aligners and elastics that shift the bottom jaw forward.
When sleep apnea is observed in children, the cause may be a narrow and underdeveloped palate. To correct issues with the palate, our orthodontist Dr. Trpkova may recommend a rapid palate expander. This solution is only effective in younger patients whose jaws have yet to develop fully.