Integrative Dental Approach and Airway Evaluation

As an airway centric dentist, we can help patients struggling with breathing issues through unique treatment. While there are a variety of causes for breathing problems, jaw alignment and other oral health conditions can hinder breathing. Oftentimes, you may suffer from chronic health problems which can be a direct result of an insufficient airway. Breathing issues are often difficult to diagnose. The main reason for this is that people are not aware of what is actually causing the problem, but they are familiar with the symptoms and side effects. This puts dentists in a first line position to diagnose airway issues. A general practitioner may not have any reason to pay particular attention to your airway, whereas a dentist has far more opportunities to check up on it. Choosing a dentist trained to identify and diagnose airway issues could save you from a whole host of health issues that may otherwise go undiagnosed. Two issues of particular interest to highly trained and qualified dentists are sleep apnea and mouth breathing.

Oftentimes, you may suffer from chronic health problems which can be a direct result of an insufficient airway. When your body is not receiving oxygen, your body enters a perpetual state of “fight or flight” and reacts by putting pressures on the other systems that directly affect your entire body. Approximately 40% of the adult population in the US is suffering from sleep disorders.

Types of sleep apnea:

There are two types of sleep apnea, obstructive and central:

Obstructive sleep apnea is the more common of the two. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs as repetitive episodes of complete or partial upper airway blockage during sleep. During an apneic episode, the diaphragm and chest muscles work harder as the pressure increases to open the airway. Breathing usually resumes with a loud gasp or body jerk. These episodes can interfere with sound sleep, reduce the flow of oxygen to vital organs, and cause heart rhythm irregularities.

In central sleep apnea, the airway is not blocked but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control center. Central apnea is related to the function of the central nervous system.

What causes sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage or narrow airway, usually when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses during sleep and blocks the airway completely. Central sleep apnea is usually observed in patients with central nervous system dysfunction, such as following a stroke or in patients with neuromuscular diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease). It is also common in patients with heart failure and other forms of heart, kidney or lung disease.

One of the biggest issues with sleep apnea is that the symptoms typically occur when a person is asleep. For that reason, many people do not know that they have sleep apnea and might be unaware of the complications connected with the condition. Left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of developing other chronic conditions and can limit a person’s ability to go about their daily life.

If you know that you snore or if your partner has commented that you seem to stop breathing at night, it can be worth your while to see a specialist for a consultation about sleep apnea. A consultation is also a good idea if you regularly feel tired during the day or if you are not sleeping well. The dangers of untreated sleep apnea are too severe not to ignore.

Do You Experience Any of These Symptoms?

  • Do you suffer from clenching, grinding, or gritting your teeth?
  • Do you have crowded teeth or a small jaw?
  • Does your tongue have teeth marks on it from pressing it up against the teeth all the time?
  • Do you snore?
  • Have you been diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?
  • Do you wake yourself up from sleep with gasping or choking?
  • Do you suffer from chronic headaches, neck aches, or backaches?
  • Do you notice that your jaw pops or clicks when you open and close your mouth?
  • Do you have a history of high blood sugar, high blood pressure, or thyroid disease?
  • Are you struggling with your weight?
  • Have you had teeth extracted to make room for braces?
  • Do you have trouble with GERD or heartburn?
  • Do you have a history of depression and/or anxiety?

Treatment options for sleep apnea often include either the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask or an oral appliance. While the CPAP is often the go-to treatment for people with sleep apnea, many ultimately find that an oral appliance for sleep is easier to use. The oral appliance, or mouthguard, is custom fitted to each patient’s mouth and is designed to keep the airway open during sleep.