Improving Sleep Apnoea with Orthodontics and Surgery

Treatments & Care

Lady laying in bed blocking her ears from snoring partner

We’ve long known that a lack of sleep can be harmful to our health. But did you know your sleep problems could be related to your teeth and jaw?

Problem with Not Enough Sleep

Sleep deprivation can contribute to a range of health problems from obesity, heart disease, diabetes, poor immunity and stroke. The longer your poor sleep habits continue, the greater the chance your health can be compromised. Therefore, it is important to investigate the potential reasons for the lack of shut-eye.

Sleep apnoea is one of the most common sleep problems. It occurs when the muscles relax at night closing the walls of the throat. The brain registers that there isn’t enough oxygen in the system, so the sleeper rouses and their throat opens before drifting back to sleep. A sufferer can wake hundreds of times each night and not even realise. However, in the morning they may wake up feeling unrested, foggy and sleep deprived despite the hours spent in bed.

How Orthodontics can Improve Sleep

Orthodontics can help sleep apnoea sufferers get a good night’s rest. In children sleep apnoea may be contributed to by narrowing of the airway from enlarged tonsils or adenoids and a narrow palate. The narrow upper and lower jaws may encourage the child to breath with their mouth open and their tongue is more likely to sit in a lower position, blocking the airway.

Although enlarged tonsils and adenoids tend to shrink as children approach puberty, their role needs to be evaluated by an appropriate health professional such as an ENT surgeon.  Expansion of the palate widens their upper nasal passages in the short to medium term and may contribute to improved breathing and favourable changes in facial growth. Palate expansion is ideal for children before puberty as the palate hasn’t fused and the jaw hasn’t solidified. The expansion also enables the orthodontist to get the upper teeth to match with the lowers and fix the bite when the upper teeth are narrow..

Braces alone cannot increase the width of the nasal passages to improve breathing. Expansion treatments  have the added benefit of reducing the chance of the mouth being crowded with adult teeth and the need for extractions.

An improperly aligned jaw can also cause obstructive sleep apnea. Fixing an underbite, overbite or crossbite with treatment directed at changing the width and/or position of the jaws may be a strategy that is useful to improve breathing.

In young or old patients with moderate to severe sleep apnoea, it is important for a sleep physician to be consulted for a comprehensive medical evaluation that may involve and overnight sleep study. There are many appropriate methods to manage sleep apnoea  from using a CPAP machine (this is a face mask that is worn at night attached to an air pump that forces air into the airway), removable appliances that are worn at night to protrude the jaw may help with opening up the airway, through to combined surgery and orthodontics to reposition the jaws. The Orthodontists have significant experience in managing these problems so please make an appointment for an evaluation.

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How Surgery can Improve Sleep

An oral surgeon can improve sleep apnoea symptoms by operating on the nose, mouth, throat or jaw. There are different  procedures surgeons can use to improve sleep apnoea depending on the severity and cause.

The excess tissue around the throat and tonsils can be removed to widen the airway. The soft palate can also be trimmed to assist mild cases of sleep apnoea.

A bent or deviated nasal septum, the divider between the two sides of the nose, may need surgery to straighten and provide better airflow.

In some cases of sleep apnoea, the tongue can be blocking the airway. While not a common procedure, an oral surgeon can remove part of a patient’s tongue, so it doesn't obscure the airway.

For severe cases of sleep apnoea, surgery and orthodontics to advance the jaw(s) has been shown to significantly improve airways as well as enhancing the facial appearance and bite.

Obesity and advancing age can lead to sleep apnoea. If other weight loss treatments have been unsuccessful, bariatric surgery may be used as a last resort to lose weight.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

If you suspect you suffer from sleep apnoea, it is best to see your GP to organise a sleep study to confirm your diagnosis. You can then make an appointment with an orthodontist or oral surgeon to discuss your treatment options.  

If you have any queries about orthodontics and sleep apnoea, please call The Orthodontists on (08) 9364 8020 or contact us online to make an appointment.

Category: Treatments & Care