How Does Orthodontic Treatment Help with Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that affects more people than one would expect—and often goes untreated until serious symptoms arise. You might be surprised to learn that there are orthodontic approaches that can provide solutions. Today, Accent Smile Center wants to answer that very question: how does orthodontic treatment help with sleep apnea?

Understanding Sleep Apnea

First and foremost, let’s cover what this condition actually looks like. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep. The pauses are known as apneas and can last from seconds to minutes, multiple times in the night. There are a few types:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: OSA is the most common type. It occurs when muscles in the throat relax, leading to an obstructed airway. When the brain detects this lack of airflow, the individual briefly wakes up to resume breathing.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: This is less common, occurring when the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the muscles responsible for controlling breathing. There’s no physical obstruction in the airway. 
  • Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome: This is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea. It can occur when patients with OSA begin continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment and start developing central sleep apnea patterns. 

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping or choking during sleep
  • Pauses in breathing observed by a bed partner
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headache
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability

Some common risk factors include

  • Obesity
  • Neck circumference (a larger neck may narrow the airway)
  • Male gender (though sleep apnea can affect both genders, it is more common in men)
  • Age (older adults are at higher risk)
  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol or sedative use
  • Nasal congestion or obstruction

It is critical to be seen by a specialist when these symptoms occur, as consequences can be potentially life-threatening in serious cases. It is a condition that can be evaluated and managed with help from experts. 

How Does Orthodontic Treatment Help with Sleep Apnea?

How Orthodontics Can Help

Orthodontic treatment can be quite effective for sleep apnea. It might not be as comprehensive for more severe cases, but it can be effective at managing some. Here are some of the approaches taken by doctors. You can also ask Dr. Gatgens, Dr. Densmore, and Dr. Noble for further advice upon visiting.

  • Mandibular Advancement Devices (MADs): MADs are dental devices that resemble a mouthguard and work by repositioning the lower jaw slightly forward during sleep. This helps to prevent the collapse of the tongue and soft tissues at the back of the throat, which is a common obstruction for patients with sleep apnea.
  • Tongue-Retaining Devices: Similar to MADs, these keep the tongue from falling backward and blocking the airway. They’ll hold the tongue in a forward position to keep an open airway.
  • Orthodontic Expansion: In some cases, orthodontic expansion of the upper jaw (maxillary expansion) may be considered. This can increase the width of the upper jaw and create more space in the nasal and oral airways. By improving airflow, expansion may contribute to the management of sleep apnea. We offer Breathe Eez in our office.
  • Combined Approaches: Orthodontic treatment for sleep apnea is often a collaborative effort with sleep medicine specialists, ENTS (ear, nose, and throat specialists), and other healthcare professionals. When working together, they can often create a more effective, individualized treatment for the patient. 


For kids dealing with sleep apnea, we offer the Healthy Start System.


Here, we’ll cover some additional common questions about this topic.

Q: Can braces be used to treat sleep apnea?

Braces alone are typically not used as primary treatment. However, they may play a role in addressing specific orthodontic issues that contribute to airway obstruction.

Q: Can orthodontic treatment completely cure my sleep apnea?
This depends a lot on your symptoms and the severity of your case. It can certainly be effective for management, but even that will vary from person to person. Again—combined treatment often garners successful results.

Q: What are some alternative paths for treatment?
CPAP therapy is a common and effective route for treating sleep apnea. There are other oral appliances, surgery, lifestyle modifications, and positional therapy that can be effective. These will always depend on the circumstances of the individual. 

Q: Will this manner of treatment be covered by insurance?
Insurance coverage will vary among providers and plans. It’s advisable to directly ask both orthodontic and medical providers for an understanding of coverage for sleep apnea-related orthodontic treatment. 

How Does Orthodontic Treatment Help with Sleep Apnea?

The Best Approach

Our team is happy to consult with patients suffering from sleep apnea. We work directly with Sleep Well Dickson as a partner for this purpose as well. There are so many options out there, so we encourage you to visit our Dickson office for a consultation, get started on treatment, or give us a call at 615-802-7968.