Fatigue, a “foggy” mind, and irritability are all signs you’re not getting enough sleep—and neither might your sleeping partner from your continuous snoring. You might have a common form of sleep-related breathing disorder (SRBD) known as obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes obstructed (usually by the tongue), resulting in a lack of oxygen. The body rouses from sleep just enough to correct the obstruction. This can occur and interrupt deep sleep several times a night, causing the aforementioned problems as well as personality changes, high blood pressure or increased stomach acid reflux. If the problem persists, sleep apnea could also become a long-term factor in the development of heart disease, diabetes or other serious conditions.
Fortunately, we can do something about it. While some may require more invasive intervention, most cases of sleep apnea can be alleviated through continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. In this therapy, an electrical pump supplies pressurized air into a face mask worn while sleeping. The increased air pressure helps to keep the airway open.
For some patients, however, CPAP can cause discomfort like claustrophobia, nasal congestion and dryness. If that’s a concern for you, you might want to consider an oral appliance provided by your dentist.
Customized to your own individual mouth contours, this appliance is usually a two-part hinged device that draws the lower jaw and the tongue forward to open the airway. Easily adjustable, these appliances are usually more comfortable to wear than a CPAP and don’t require electricity or have the attendant noise of a CPAP pump.
They do, however, have a few drawbacks: they can disrupt saliva flow, causing either too much or too little; they may result in some morning soreness; and they can stimulate unnecessary tooth or jaw movements. For most, though, these side effects are minor compared to a better night’s sleep.
If you suspect you may have some form of SRBD, you’ll need to have it confirmed through a physical examination and possibly sleep lab testing. If it is sleep apnea, your physician and dentist can work together to help you find the right therapy to regain the benefits of a good night’s sleep.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
Poor bites, also known as “malocclusions,” can have a dramatic impact on mouth function and appearance. Moving teeth to better positions will solve most of these bite problems — but not all.
A case in point is a malformed maxilla, the skeletal structure formed by the union of the upper jaw and the roof of the mouth (the palate). If the rear portion of the maxilla develops too narrowly, the back teeth will bite abnormally inside the lower teeth while the front teeth bite normally, creating what’s known as a crossbite. People with this kind of malocclusion often shift their lower jaw to one side to bite down completely.
This can be corrected without too much intervention if the problem is diagnosed while the person is young. This is because the maxilla is actually formed from two bones that don’t completely fuse together in the center of the palate until just after puberty. An orthodontic appliance known as a palatal expander takes advantage of this slight gap. The metal appliance is placed along the narrowed portion of the palate in the rear of the mouth: four metal “arms,” two on each side, attach to the inside of the back teeth with a tension device between them that extends the arms outward to put pressure against the teeth.
Every day the patient or a parent uses a special key to turn the tension device and cause it to expand slightly, placing additional outward pressure on the jaw. This will widen the gap in the center of the palate and new bone will grow to fill in the increased space. Over time this will cause the rear portion of maxilla to widen.
While effective, a palatal expander may not work in every case, and it must be done before the two bones fuse permanently. When it can be used, though, it’s a proven treatment that can restore proper bite function, as well as improve your child’s smile.
If you would like more information on palatal expanders to correct certain bite problems, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Palatal Expanders.”
Braces can be a long, involved process, but gaining a more attractive smile and better oral health is worth it. Sometimes, though, braces can produce unintended short-term consequences.
Brace brackets and wires do the work of moving teeth to better positions. They can, however, hinder the wearer's hygiene efforts to remove plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles, from tooth surfaces. Plaque buildup increases the risk of dental disease and other ill effects.
One such effect while you're wearing braces is the formation of tiny spots that look pale and chalky on otherwise smooth and polished enamel. These are white spot lesions (WSLs), where acid has remained for too long on the tooth enamel. They occur because acid-producing bacteria escape removal during brushing and flossing due to the braces hardware.
We want to try to prevent WSLs while wearing braces, and not just because they're unattractive. You're actually looking at enamel erosion, which could lead to cavity development at those weakened spots.
Although difficult for you as a braces wearer, daily brushing and flossing is crucial to WSL prevention. You'll need to take more time to be sure you're reaching all around the wires and brackets. You can improve your effectiveness with special brushes for braces and floss threaders or water irrigators. You can also help keep acid levels low by cutting back on acidic foods and beverages, especially sodas, coffee or spicy foods.
Even if you develop WSLs we can treat them effectively, especially if caught early. One way is by aiding enamel re-mineralization through saliva stimulation (the mouth's acid neutralizer) or applying fluoride to the teeth to strengthen enamel. We can also use caries infiltration, a technique that injects tooth-colored resin below the surface of the lesion. This strengthens the weakened enamel and gives the area the appearance of translucence like normal enamel.
While you're wearing braces, focus diligently on keeping your teeth clean of plaque and keep up your regular cleaning visits with us. If you notice any unusual discolorations or abnormalities, see us as soon as possible. Stopping WSLs from developing will help ensure your teeth are healthy and attractive after the braces come off.
If you would like more information on dental care with braces, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “White Spots on Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”
When the multi-platinum recording artist, songwriter and TV personality Jason Derulo was recently asked about his ideal woman, his answer covered a remarkably broad spectrum. "There’s no specific thing," he said, "so I think it’s unfair to say what my ‘type’ is." But it turns out that there is one thing the So You Think You Can Dance judge considers essential: A beautiful smile.
"I’m not into messy teeth," Derulo said. "If the grill has spaces and different colors, it’s not my vibe."
As it turns out, he may be on to something: A number of surveys have indicated that a bright, healthy smile is often the first thing people notice when meeting someone new. Yet many are reluctant to open up that big grin because they aren’t satisfied with the way their teeth look. If you’re one of them, consider this: Modern cosmetic dentistry offers a variety of ways to improve your smile — and it may be easier and more affordable than you think.
For example, if your smile isn’t as bright as you would like it to be, teeth whitening is an effective and economical way to lighten it up. If you opt for in-office treatments, you can expect a lightening effect of up to 10 shades in a single one-hour treatment! Or, you can achieve the same effect in a week or two with a take-home kit we can custom-make for you. Either way, you’ll be safe and comfortable being treated under the supervision of a dental professional — and the results can be expected to last for up to two years, or perhaps more.
If your teeth have minor spacing irregularities, small chips or cracks, it may be possible to repair them in a single office visit via cosmetic bonding. In this process, a liquid composite resin is applied to the teeth and cured (hardened) with a special light. This high-tech material, which comes in colors to match your teeth, can be built up in layers and shaped with dental instruments to create a pleasing, natural effect.
If your smile needs more than just a touch-up, dental veneers may be the answer. These wafer-thin coverings, placed right on top of your natural teeth, can be made in a variety of shapes and colors — from a natural pearly luster to a brilliant "Hollywood white." Custom-made veneers typically involve the removal of a few millimeters of tooth enamel, making them a permanent — and irreversible — treatment. However, by making teeth look more even, closing up spaces and providing dazzling whiteness, veneers just might give you the smile you’ve always wanted.
If you would like more information about cosmetic dental treatments, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cosmetic Dentistry — A Time for Change.”
Your nightly snoring has become a major sleep disturbance for you and other family members. But it may be more than an irritation — it could also be a sign of sleep apnea, a condition that increases your risk for life-threatening illnesses like high blood pressure or heart disease.
Sleep apnea most often occurs when the tongue or other soft tissues block the airway during sleep. The resulting lack of oxygen triggers the brain to wake the body to readjust the airway. This waking may only last a few seconds, but it can occur several times a night. Besides its long-term health effects, this constant waking through the night can result in irritability, drowsiness and brain fog during the day.
One of the best ways to treat sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. This requires an electric pump that supplies constant pressurized air to a face mask worn during sleep to keep the airway open. But although effective, many patients find a CPAP machine clumsy and uncomfortable to wear. That's why you may want to consider an option from your family dentist called oral appliance therapy (OAT).
An OAT device is a custom-made appliance that fits in the mouth like a sports mouthguard or orthodontic retainer. The majority of OAT appliances use tiny metal hinges to move the lower jaw and tongue forward to make the airway larger, thus improving air flow. Another version works by holding the tongue away from the back of the throat, either by holding the tongue forward like a tongue depressor or with a small compartment fitted around the tongue that holds it back with suction.
Before considering an OAT appliance, your dentist may refer you to a sleep specialist to confirm you have sleep apnea through laboratory or home testing. If you do and you meet other criteria, you could benefit from an OAT appliance. There may be other factors to consider, though, so be sure to discuss your options with your dentist or physician to find the right solution for a better night's sleep.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea treatments, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea.”
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