A full night's sleep isn't a luxury—we all need it for a healthy mind and body. But 50-70 million people in the U.S. aren't getting enough sleep because of a chronic sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA happens when a sleeper's airway becomes blocked (most commonly by the tongue), cutting off oxygen to the brain. The body rouses from sleep to overcome the blockage. This awakening could last only a few seconds, after which the person immediately goes back to sleep. But it can occur hundreds of times a night and interrupt deeper sleep needed for a good night's rest.
Sleep disorders like OSA are a significant medical problem that could contribute to serious health issues like high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. If you're experiencing fatigue, irritability or your family's complaints of you snoring, you should see a physician for diagnosis and treatment options.
You should also consider another health professional who could be helpful in dealing with OSA—and may even be able to provide a treatment option: your dentist. Here's how.
A dentist could discover your OSA. Because of twice-a-year dental visits, dentists often see patients more frequently than other healthcare providers. A properly trained dentist could pick up on signs and symptoms of sleep disorder, including patients falling asleep and even snoring while in the dentist's chair.
Dentists are familiar with the mouth. Few healthcare providers focus on the oral cavity like dentists. Besides the teeth and gums, dentists also have extensive knowledge of the tonsils, uvula and tongue that often play a role in sleep disorders. As such, a dentist may notice abnormalities during routine exams that might contribute to airway obstruction during sleep.
Dentists provide a treatment option. Many OSA patients use a CPAP mask to maintain an open airway during sleep. But CPAP therapy can be uncomfortable for some. For mild to moderate cases of OSA, dentists can create an oral appliance based on the patient's mouth dimensions that prevents the tongue from sinking back into the throat.
If you believe you may have OSA or a similar sleep disorder, by all means speak with your doctor. But also mention it to your dentist—your dental provider might hold the key to a better night's sleep.
If you would like more information on how we could help with your sleep apnea symptoms, 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.”
You can't correct a poor bite with braces or clear aligners overnight: Even the most cut-and-dried case can still require a few years to move teeth where they should be. It's a welcome relief, then, when you're finally done with braces or aligner trays.
That doesn't mean, however, that you're finished with orthodontic treatment. You now move into the next phase—protecting your new smile that took so much to gain. At least for a couple of more years you'll need to regularly wear an orthodontic retainer.
The name of this custom-made device explains its purpose: to keep or “retain” your teeth in their new, modified positions. This is necessary because the same mechanism that allows us to move teeth in the first place can work in reverse.
That mechanism centers around a tough but elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. Although it primarily holds teeth in place, the ligament also allows for tiny, gradual tooth movement in response to mouth changes. Braces or aligner trays take advantage of this ability by exerting pressure on the teeth in the direction of intended movement. The periodontal ligament and nature do the rest.
But once we relieve the pressure when we remove the braces or aligners, a kind of “muscle memory” in the ligament can come into play, causing the teeth to move back to where they originally were. If we don't inhibit this reaction, all the time and effort put into orthodontic treatment can be lost.
Retainers, either the removable type or one fixed in place behind the teeth, gently “push” or “pull” against the teeth (depending on which type) just enough to halt any reversing movement. Initially, a patient will need to wear their retainer around the clock. After a while, wear time can be reduced to just a few hours a day, usually during sleep-time.
Most younger patients will only need to wear a retainer for a few years. Adults who undergo teeth-straightening later in life, however, may need to wear a retainer indefinitely. Even so, a few hours of wear every day is a small price to pay to protect your beautiful straightened smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic retainers, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
The monarchs of the world experience the same health issues as their subjects—but they often tend to be hush-hush about it. Recently, though, the normally reticent Queen Elizabeth II let some young dental patients in on a lesser known fact about Her Majesty's teeth.
While touring a new dental hospital, the queen told some children being fitted for braces that she too “had wires” once upon a time. She also said, “I think it's worth it in the end.”
The queen isn't the only member of the House of Windsor to need help with a poor bite. Both Princes William and Harry have worn braces, as have other members of the royal family. A propensity for overbites, underbites and other malocclusions (poor bites) can indeed pass down through families, whether of noble or common lineage.
Fortunately, there are many ways to correct congenital malocclusions, depending on their type and severity. Here are 3 of them.
Braces and clear aligners. Braces are the tried and true way to straighten misaligned teeth, while the clear aligner method—removable plastic mouth trays—is the relative “new kid on the block.” Braces are indeed effective for a wide range of malocclusions, but their wires and brackets make it difficult to brush and floss, and they're not particularly attractive. Clear aligners solve both of these issues, though they may not handle more complex malocclusions as well as braces.
Palatal expanders. When the upper jaw develops too narrowly, a malocclusion may result from teeth crowding into too small a space. But before the upper jaw bones fuse together in late childhood, orthodontists can fit a device called a palatal expander inside the upper teeth, which exerts gentle outward pressure on the teeth. This encourages more bone growth in the center to widen the jaw and help prevent a difficult malocclusion from forming.
Specialized braces for impacted teeth. An impacted tooth, which remains partially or completely hidden in the gums, can impede dental health, function and appearance. But we may be able to coax some impacted teeth like the front canines into full eruption. This requires a special orthodontic technique in which a bracket is surgically attached to the impacted tooth's crown. A chain connected to the bracket is then looped over other orthodontic hardware to gradually pull the tooth down where it should be.
Although some techniques like palatal expanders are best undertaken in early dental development, people of any age and reasonably good health can have a problem bite corrected with other methods. If you are among those who benefit from orthodontics, you'll have something in common with the Sovereign of the British Isles: a healthy, attractive and straighter smile.
While retainers are often viewed as a nuisance, they’re crucial to protect the gains made with bite correction. Without them, all of the progress achieved through braces or clear aligners could be lost.
Here’s why: The same elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament that holds teeth in place also allows them to move incrementally in response to changes in the mouth. That’s why we can move teeth with braces or aligners, which put pressure on the teeth toward a desired direction of movement while the periodontal ligament does the rest.
But the mechanics can also work in reverse: With pressure relieved when the braces are removed, the teeth could revert to their original positions through a kind of “muscle memory.” The light pressure provided by a retainer is enough to keep or “retain” teeth in their new positions.
The best known retainer is a removable appliance. Initially, a patient wears it continuously and only takes it out during oral hygiene. Wear duration may later be reduced to night time only and eventually not at all, depending on a patient’s individual needs.
While effective, removable retainers do have some downsides. Like braces, they’re visible to others. And because they’re removable, they’re frequently misplaced or lost, leading to the added expense of a new one.
An alternative is a bonded retainer, a thin piece of wire attached to the back of the newly moved teeth to keep them in place. Because it’s behind the teeth it’s not visible—and there’s no misplacing it because only a dentist can take it out.
A bonded retainer is a good option, especially if a patient is immature and not as diligent about wearing or keeping up with their appliance. But it can make flossing difficult to perform, and if they’re removed or broken prematurely, the teeth could revert to their former positions.
If you decide to go with a bonded retainer, be sure you get some tips from your dental hygienist on how to floss with it. And if you decide later to have it removed early, be sure to replace it with a removable retainer. Either of these two options can help you keep your new and improved smile.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, 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 “Bonded Retainers.”
After years of research, we're confident in saying that brushing and flossing daily are essential for maintaining a healthy mouth. A mere five minutes a day performing these tasks will significantly lower your risk of dental disease.
We're also sure about the essentials you'll need to perform these tasks: a soft-bristled toothbrush using fluoride toothpaste, and a roll (or picks) of dental floss. The only deviation might be a water flosser appliance instead of flossing thread.
Unfortunately, some folks deviate even more from the norm for both of these tasks. One of the strangest is a social media trend substituting regular toothpaste with substances containing activated charcoal. The proponents of brushing with charcoal claim it will help whiten teeth and kill harmful microorganisms. People brushing with a black, tarry substance also seem to make for good “gross-out” videos.
There's no substantial evidence to support these claims. Perhaps proponents of charcoal's whitening ability are assuming it can remove stains based on its natural abrasiveness. It could, however, remove more than that: Used over time, charcoal could wear down the protective enamel coating on your teeth. If that happens, your teeth will be more yellow and at much greater risk for tooth decay.
When it comes to flossing (or more precisely, removing food material from between teeth), people can be highly inventive, substituting what might be at hand for dental floss. In a recent survey, a thousand adults were asked if they had ever used household items to clean between their teeth and what kind. Eighty percent said they had, using among other things twigs, nails (the finger or toe variety) and screwdrivers.
Such items aren't meant for dental use and can harm tooth surfaces and gum tissues. Those around you, especially at the dinner table, might also find their use off-putting. Instead, use items approved by the American Dental Association like floss, floss picks or toothpicks. Some of these items are small enough to carry with you for the occasional social “emergency.”
Brushing and flossing can absolutely make a difference keeping your teeth and gums healthy. But the real benefit comes when you perform these tasks correctly—and use the right products for the job.
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