Sleep apnea is a common but serious sleep disorder, in which you have interrupted breathing while you sleep. Today, we will discuss about Sleep apnea and how orthodontics can play a role.

Can orthodontic treatment help or even cure sleep apnea?

Dr Yoon — The answer is Yes for certain cases. For example, for the patients who have very crowded teeth with a deep bite, where the top teeth cover the lower teeth all the way, the airway is too narrow and your tongue has nowhere to go so your tongue naturally falls back to your throat and makes it hard for you to breathe during the night time. If we can widen the jaws, develop the arch shape, and align your teeth, your tongue may naturally come forward and can help treat sleep apnea.

What kinds of treatment options are there for the sleep apnea patient?

Dr Yoon — For some people who have very narrow upper jaws and have problem breathing through their noses such as with the upper airway resistance syndrome, we can expand the upper jaw to be wider. As a result, your oral airway becomes wider and the floor of the nose is expanded as well to create more nasal volume. For mild cases, this is actually enough to cure sleep apnea.

The most common treatment for sleep apnea in children involves using a rapid palatal expander, which is an appliance to expand the upper jaw. It is an effective way for treating sleep apnea and sometimes this expander therapy is combined with tonsillectomy to obtain maximum results.

For people who have small and returded lower jaws, which push the tongue backward, we re-position the lower jaw forwards using orthodontic appliances. As a result, your tongue moves forward and this can produce normal breathing patterns and sleep apnea can be cured.

If you don’t want to have a full orthodontic treatment, we provide an option of utilizing an oral appliance. Oral appliances can be worn during sleep to prevent the collapse of the tongue and soft tissue so that the airway stays open during sleep.

For moderate to severe cases, we use an oral appliance in addition to CPAP (continuous positive air pressure).

The other main treatment option for severe cases is orthognathic surgery in conjunction with braces. This has proven to be the most effective treatment for sleep apnea.

What is orthognathic surgery?

Dr Yoon — It is jaw surgery to move the upper and lower to correct jaw discrepancies. For sleep apnea patients, the main focus of the surgery is to expand the airway. As a result, most of the time, the upper and lower jaws are moved forward. As the bones are surgically advanced, the soft tissues of the tongue and palate are also moved forward, again opening the upper airway.