The Dentistry to Treat Sleep Apnea

Dentists and orthodontists are now looking into ways they can help people with Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the result of the upper airway being obstructed during sleep. This causes the sufferer’s blood oxygen saturation to lower, and can result in many health problems and even death.
Dentists are working with sleep doctors to try to remedy this dangerous condition. They will screen a patient to determine the need for what they are calling “sleep dentistry” and then take steps to help correct the situation. How can they help?

Sometimes craniofacial factors can cause OSA – this means that adjustments to the structure of the jaw can help. Other times, a mandibular advancement splint is prescribed, and a dentist can certainly help in the fitting and maintenance of this type of device. A mandibular advancement splint (MAS) is a mouthguard similar to those that dentists prescribe to prevent patients from grinding their teeth.
The MAS functions to hold the lower jaw away from the wearer’s natural jaw position, which in cases where the MAS is needed is further up and back from where it needs to be to promote proper air flow. The MAS holds the jaw down and forward, which makes the tongue slide naturally away from the airway.
Another way that sleep apnea can be alleviated is for a qualified surgeon to perform surgery on the patient’s soft palate. Dentists who are striving to eliminate OSA in patients perform what is called an uvulopalatophrayngoplasty . This procedure removes tissue from the throat, thus eliminating obstruction by an overly large soft palate or uvula and hopefully correcting the situation.

Another surgery that has been found to be helpful is called Genioglossus Advancement, in which the part of the lower jaw that connects to the tongue is surgically moved forward. The result of this is a replacement of the tongue – it is moved away from the airway. Often the tongue obstructs the airway and that causes OSA.
The most extreme, yet most dangerous and severe surgery used for OSA is maxillomandibular advancement, which is also called maxillomandibular osteotomy or bimaxiallry advancement. In this procedure, the top and bottom of the jaw is moved forward. This procedure is often performed with a tongue advancement procedure. The procedure is very painful and has a long recovery period, and it can also change the way the patient’s face looks. On the upside, if the OSA sufferer also has a receding chin, this surgery usually corrects that.

Some of the symptoms of OSA include snoring (of course) with a stoppage of airflow, and then gasps for air. Also, the sufferer can also experience sleepiness in the daytime, even if they think they’ve gotten a long night’s sleep. More extreme symptoms are mood changes, high blood pressure, weight gain, frequent heartburn, and night sweats. If someone has these symptoms, they can work with a sleep doctor and dentist in tandem to research their options. Correcting the situation before it causes irreparable health problems is key.

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