A poor bite, missing teeth, misaligned jaw, and other dental abnormalities can cause breathing problems. Depending on your dentist’s diagnosis, the dentist, orthodontist, or oral surgeon can correct them with one of several treatments.
Mandibular Repositioning Device
This device temporarily moves the jawbone forward and opens the airway, especially for patients with sleep apnea; the device is worn during sleep with or without a CPAP machine. You can remove the device after you wake up.
The Mandibular Repositioning Device can be more comfortable than the CPAP for some people and can also improve sleep apnea, snoring, and bruxism. The device may be covered by medical insurance when a patient has a sleep apnea diagnosis.
A night guard is also worn during sleep, can help prevent tooth grinding, and temporarily open the bite to give the tongue more space to improve milder sleep breathing issues at night.
This device is attached into the upper palate and can widen a child’s (and some adults’) upper jaws to correct occlusion issues such as crossbite, crowding, and impacted teeth. It is important to begin this treatment as early as possible in childhood while palates are still malleable. Adults’ palates are fused and don’t respond as readily to this appliance without surgical intervention.
Palatal expanders can be an important component of treatment that can reduce sleep apnea and restore proper functional nasal breathing because the roof of the mouth is the floor of the nose. So, by expanding the palate, you effectively widen the nasal passageway. Pediatric dentists and orthodontists are called upon to screen for airway issues and refer for expansion starting at age 3 or 4 since much of jaw and facial growth happens by age 6.
Another possible cause of airway obstruction is muscle weakness of the tongue, mouth, and upper throat. Myofunctional therapy consists of a system of techniques and exercises to strengthen the muscles of the lips, tongue, and airway to improve chewing and swallowing. This therapy enables patients to support effective nasal breathing during the day and night, which can reduce symptoms of bruxism, snoring, and sleep apnea.
In small children, myofunctional therapy can be very effective without the use of expensive treatments or medications that may have side effects. For example, by ensuring that the tongue is suctioned up to the palate at rest, myofunctional therapy can help expand jaws naturally in a developing child and can be used in conjunction with orthodontics and jaw surgery at any age.
Myofunctional therapists are also trained to screen for anatomical issues related to the airway, such as tongue and lip tie, orthodontic issues, and large tonsils so that they can make the proper referrals to specialists for further treatment.
Myofunctional therapy can also deter children from pushing their tongue against and moving their teeth, which causes new orthodontic treatment or a “relapse” in current treatment. Our office is one of the few in the area with hygienists on staff who are trained in myofunctional therapy and offers it to patients who can benefit from it.