There’s a common misconception that dentists and orthodontists only deal with their patients’ teeth. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Air-way orthodontics is the practice of providing orthodontic care that also encourages proper breathing and craniofacial development. This is growth-oriented care that helps prevent a variety of health issues, such as breathing-related sleep disorders (like obstructive sleep apnea). In the long run, airway orthodontics also helps to prevent more serious problems that can arise or be aggravated from such disorders, like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and more.
What is Improper Breathing?
When a person is not breathing properly they are suffering from unnecessary exhaustion. Blood oxygen starts to decrease while carbon dioxide levels increase, causing the heart rate to speed up. When this happens during sleep, the person never truly reaches restful sleep and is often still tired after waking up. This isn’t healthy, and it affects everything from memory and cognitive thinking to vital organ health.
What Causes Improper Breathing?
When it comes to physiological causes for improper breathing, it’s very common for the root of the issue to be in the mouth, throat or nose. There are a variety of specific causes, but the most common include a deviated septum and/or other obstructive tissues (adenoids and enlarged tonsils, for example) and not enough space for the tongue due to poor jaw shape (narrow jaws or recessive jaws in particular).
There are a variety of symptoms that can indicate disorders like obstructive sleep apnea and sleep disordered breathing:
- Daytime sleepiness or exhaustion
- Mouth breathing
- Hyperactive behavior
- Difficulty paying attention and other ADHD-like behavior
- Nasal-sounding speech
- Snoring (any kind of snoring should be viewed as a warning sign)
- Gasping for breath during sleep
- Pauses in breathing while asleep
- Restless sleep behavior
- Bedwetting (Enuresis)
- Night sweats
- Sleep walking and/or night terrors
- Unusual sleep positions
If you notice any of the above symptoms in your child, it does not automatically mean they have a breathing disorder. However, it is a good idea to speak with their orthodontist about it.
Depending on the specific case and concerns brought up, the orthodontist may suggest a clinical exam, 3-D imaging, a home sleep test or even an overnight sleep test.
Air-way orthodontics employs a variety of different measures to improve breathing air-ways. This may include growth-oriented treatments like jaw expansion to removing tonsils and other obstructive tissues.