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Natural Awakenings Boston

A Dentist’s Obligation to Treat Sleep Disorders

Mar 01, 2020 11:53AM ● By Amparo David

When one thinks of the dentist, a routine cleaning and check with the doctor probably comes to mind. Maybe it’s been mentioned a cavity needs a filling, and then the appointment comes to a close. But what if there’s more that needs to be addressed besides teeth themselves? Dentistry is turning its focus far beyond the mouth alone. With innovative minds and impressive new technology comes more focus to one’s overall health, and the first fundamental of health is proper sleep.

It is estimated that 10 million Americans are affected by a disorder called Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD). TMD is a form of dysfunction in the area where the lower jaw connects to the skull (the jaw joints). TMD symptoms can include noticeable popping of these joints, tightness in the muscles surrounding the joints, grinding or clenching the teeth, headaches and neck stiffness. It has been identified that when a person is not receiving sufficient oxygen at night, the subconscious mind responds by telling the body to protrude the lower jaw in an effort to open the airway. This continuous back and forth motion of the jaw is the mysterious grinding affect that occurs in people’s sleep. This grinding is something people are usually un-knowledgeable of because they are in the early stages of sleep when it occurs.

As far as sleep health goes, sleep apnea is a common form of sleeping disorder. Those that suffer from sleep apnea experience several instances of a completely blocked airway during sleep. As a result, oxygen becomes insufficient and results in poor quality sleep due to the inability to reach REM stage sleep. REM is the stage where the body and brain is able to rest, heal and grow.

Children will often present with sleep apnea. Left untreated, a child suffering from sleep apnea will not be able to develop cognitively to their full potential due to restricted oxygen access to their brain. Symptoms include hyperactivity, poor focusing skills, teeth grinding, night terrors, sleep talking, sleep walking, bed wetting, headache, drowsiness and recurrent ear infections.

Treatment Options

There are several forms of treatment depending on the specific individual and their symptoms. For example, a case involving sleep apnea often involves a custom-fitted oral appliance worn on a nightly basis. The appliance is designed to keep the patient’s lower jaw protruded (like the body does automatically if the brain senses a lack of oxygen). By doing this, the airway is kept open and improved sleep is achieved.

Another form of treatment to manage sleeping/TMD disorders includes physically expanding the jaw and bone surrounding the teeth. Myobrace and the ALF appliances are excellent ways to expand the mouths of young children as bone is very flexible in the early stages of life. Essential, these simple oral appliances are worn constantly as they gently push the bone in a manner that makes more room not only for the teeth to align nicely, but to also expand the airway. As a result, this early expansion of children’s jaws prevents future instances of sleep apnea and TMD.

Another technological achievement in dentistry is laser dentistry. NIGHTLASE is a treatment growing popular as it is non-invasive and proves to have strong results. Those that suffer from sleep apnea or poor breathing during rest will have fibrotic, low-hanging tissue in the back of the throat. This is known as type III collagen. The loose tissue forms due to air irritating it during snoring and contributes to blocking the airway. A laser, specifically, the fotona laser, is locally focused on this problematic tissue in the form of a light. The light warms and activates the cells in the area to create new healthy tissue, or collagen II. Essentially, the tissue tightens and creates more room for oxygen to enter the respiratory system. To be effectual, around three laser treatments lasting 20 minutes over the span of two months is recommended. Studies on this treatment prove that sleeping quality improves and snoring resolves significantly after the first treatment.

Dentists are the ideal providers to look into issues relating to sleep and TMD. Not only are these health concerns related to the oral environment, they are key areas that need to be functioning correctly for a person to develop and live a quality life. So, when the time comes to see the dentist again, it is imperative that this new knowledge is considered.

To learn more and schedule a consultation with Dr. Amparo David, call 978-779-0865 or visit TMJSleepMa.com. See ad on this page and Resource Guide on page 35.