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What is Airway-Centered Dentistry?

December 13, 2021

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is arguably one of the most overlooked conditions in the world. Globally, one billion people are expected to have the disorder, and over 80 percent of them remain undiagnosed and untreated. Although many people with OSA go untreated, they can experience a variety of debilitating symptoms that affect their everyday health and well-being. With symptoms from drowsy driving and extreme daily sleepiness to an inability to focus at work and school, individuals with OSA can find it challenging to stay on top of the everyday upkeep of their jobs, education, relationships, and more.

Similarly, OSA is associated with many chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, depression, stroke, dementia, and asthma. In one study of 244 patients that was performed in order to assess the prevalence of associated comorbidities in a group of patients diagnosed with OSA, a whopping 91 percent of them had comorbidities. The most common of these were obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

Clearly, OSA has a significant impact on those who have it, which is why it’s so essential for dental and medical professionals to provide the excellent treatment and screening that patients need. When you think of sleep apnea and airway health, the last thing you probably think about is a dentist. However, dentistry is actually essential to the screening and treatment of sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea. This has led to the development of airway-centered dentistry, a new and powerful field that offers excellent opportunities for both dentists and their patients. Let’s dive right into what airway-centered dentistry is and what it has to offer!

A Definition of Airway-Centered Dentistry

Airway-centered dentistry is a field of dental care that focuses on the structure of the mouth and airway and how they impact your ability to breathe and sleep well. Dentists who work in this field look for signs of OSA and other disorders related to the airway that normally manifest themselves in the mouth. For example, things like mouth breathing, tooth wear, a scalloped tongue, and a narrow archway are all signs that a patient could have sleep apnea.

Not only do these dentists want to identify cases of OSA, but they also want to help prevent it from developing in the first place. By implementing simple screening into the biannual visit process, dentists can both prevent issues down the road and treat sleep apnea that already exists.

Signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Signs of OSA can be easy to miss if you’re not sure what to look for. Some of the most common symptoms of the disorder include the following:

  • Morning headaches after waking up
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Loud snoring
  • Feeling tired even after a full night of sleep
  • Waking up throughout the night gasping for air
  • Waking to urinate throughout the night
  • Grogginess during the day

Because some of these signs may not be obvious to you while you’re asleep, if you think there’s a chance you might have OSA, it’s best not to self-diagnose but rather visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Restoring Functional Breathing

Airway-centered dentistry is focused on providing a comprehensive and noninvasive approach to restoring an individual’s functional breathing so they can sleep well at night. Functional breathing has the following characteristics:

  • Moves through the nose
  • Moves freely and silently, even during sleep
  • Is adaptive and changes according to activity and rest
  • Interacts with the rest of the body in a two-way relationship, promoting homeostasis

If your breathing is not filling each of these requirements, it’s not serving your body as much as it should be. That’s where airway-centered dentistry steps in to fill the gaps. Underdeveloped structures in the jaws, temporomandibular joints (TMJ), face, teeth, or airway can all cause your airway to become blocked. When these structures need some support, it’s up to a dentist in this field to identify where the issue lies and how to best solve it.

Identifying and Addressing the Root Cause

Beyond just treating the symptoms of OSA, airway-centered dentistry seeks to address the root cause of it. For example, oral appliance therapy is often used in cases of mild to moderate OSA to help expand the jaws and dental arches in order to make more room for the tongue and airway. This prevents or reduces airway collapse as a patient sleeps.

These appliances are customized to each person’s mouth and specific needs. They work by encouraging not only teeth movement but also bone growth, which means they often result in permanent change. On top of the excellent results many patients experience, this therapy is also easy to use. All individuals need to do is wear the appliance at night and allow it to keep their airway open as it remodels the bones in their mouth and face.

In patients whose OSA is caused by a tongue that’s too large for the mouth or a restricted airway due to other underdeveloped structures, this therapy could be one of the most effective solutions.

Airway-centered dentistry is changing the game for those with OSA. Not only is it making treatment therapies more available to millions of people who need it through dentistry, but it’s also focused on addressing the root cause of the disorder instead of the symptoms. If you think you may have OSA, reach out to your dentist today. And if you’re a dentist interested in expanding your treatment options, you can learn more at vivoslife.com.