Millions of people have obstructive sleep apnea—and some don’t even realize it. That’s because even though these airway-blocking episodes can occur several times a night, they may only last a few seconds. The brain rouses the body just long enough to open the airway but not long enough to awaken the person to consciousness.
Even though a person with sleep apnea might not remember what happened to them, they can still experience the effects of sleep disturbance: drowsiness, irritability or an inability to focus. Over time, the accumulation of “bad sleep” could increase their risk for heart disease or other life-threatening conditions.
But there are effective ways to alleviate or lessen obstructive sleep apnea. The main “go-to” treatment is a method called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP utilizes an electric pump that supplies a constant flow of pressurized air through a mask worn by the patient while sleeping. The increased air pressure around the throat helps keep the airway open.
But although it’s effective, CPAP is unpopular with many people who have tried it. Many find the hose and other equipment cumbersome, or the mask too uncomfortable or restrictive to wear. As a result, quite a number simply avoid using it.
If you’ve had a similar experience with CPAP or would rather explore other options, we may have an alternative: an oral appliance you wear while you sleep. It can help prevent or lessen symptoms in cases of mild to moderate airway obstruction caused by the tongue or other forms of tissue.
Sleep apnea appliances come in two basic forms. One uses metal hinges to help move the lower jaw and tongue forward. The other form has a compartment that fits around the tongue and applies suction to help keep the tongue moved forward.
These appliances may not be suitable for patients with severe sleep apnea or whose cause is something other than a physical obstruction like abnormal neurological signaling patterns. But where they are appropriate, they can be an effective alternative to CPAP and the key to a better night’s sleep.
If you would like more information on this dental solution for 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 “Oral Appliances for Sleep Apnea.”
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.
One of the health issues pregnant women should be concerned about is a higher risk of periodontal (gum) disease. But you don’t have to be pregnant to have an increased risk — you also may be more susceptible to dental disease if you’re taking certain birth control pills.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by plaque, food debris that builds up on tooth and gum surfaces due to poor oral hygiene. If left untreated gum disease can eventually lead to the breakdown of connective gum tissue and cause tooth loss.
Pregnant women are at greater risk because of an increased level of female hormones (estrogen) in their blood stream. This causes a change in the blood vessels that supply the gums, making them more susceptible to the effects of bacteria. A number of birth control options also increase estrogen levels, causing much of the same effect. To heighten the effect, you may also have a predisposition toward gum disease by your genetics or a high stress level.
There are some things you can do, however, to help lower your risk if you’re taking birth control medication. First and foremost, practice a consistent, daily habit of brushing and flossing. If you’re unsure if your technique is effective, we can provide guidance and training to make sure you’re performing these tasks properly. You should also visit us at least twice a year for office cleanings and checkups: no matter how effective you are with brushing and flossing, plaque can still accumulate in hard to reach places and form hardened deposits known as calculus.
You should also be on the lookout for signs of disease like gum redness, swelling or bleeding. If you see any of these signs, contact us as soon as possible for a thorough examination. As with many other issues involving health, the sooner we begin treatment for gum disease the better your chances of stopping it before it does too much harm.
If you would like more information on the relationship between gum disease and pregnancy or birth control, 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 “Pregnancy & Birth Control.”
Preventing tooth decay is mostly about the basics: daily brushing and flossing followed by regular dental cleanings and checkups. But there’s also a bigger picture: your own personal risk profile for decay based on factors you can modify directly — and those you can’t.
The first type of factor usually involves habits and behavior that either work with your mouth’s natural defenses to fight decay or against it. Besides regular hygiene, your diet is probably the most important of these you can modify for better dental health.
A diet rich in fresh vegetables, protein and dairy products boosts strong, healthy teeth resistant to decay. Conversely, bacteria thrive on the sugar in many snack foods, while sodas, sports or energy drinks elevate acid levels that soften and erode the minerals in your teeth’s enamel.
Lifestyle habits like tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption also increase your decay risk. Not only do they promote plaque buildup (the thin film of bacteria and food particles that feeds the decay process), but tobacco especially can impede the body’s natural prevention and healing properties.
Conscientious hygiene practices, a dental-friendly diet and modified lifestyle habits all can help you prevent decay. But diligence may not be enough — there are other possible factors you can’t control or may find difficult to change. For example, you may have a genetic propensity toward certain bacteria that cause decay. You may have a condition like gastric reflux that increases the mouth’s acid level. You may also be taking medications that reduce saliva flow, the mouth’s natural acid neutralizer.
But if we know which of these indirect risk factors affect you, we can compensate with extra measures. If enamel strength is a problem we can topically apply fluoride; we can also reduce chronic bacterial levels with prescription rinses. If you have restricted saliva flow, we can attempt to modify your prescriptions through your doctor or prescribe aids that increase saliva.
The key is to investigate your complete risk factor profile through a thorough dental examination. Once we know everything about your mouth, life and health that increases your decay risk, we can put in place a balanced strategy of prevention and treatment just for you. Doing so will greatly increase your chances for keeping your teeth decay-free and healthy.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating dental disease, 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 “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
If you've been dealing with a tooth that needs to be removed—or it's already missing—you may be looking to replace it with a dental implant. And it's a great choice: No other restoration can provide the appearance and function of a real tooth like an implant.
You and your smile are ready for it. The question is, though, are your gums and underlying bone ready? These dental structures play a critical role in an implant's stability and eventual appearance. A problem with them may make placing an implant difficult if not impossible.
An implant requires around 2.0 millimeters of bone thickness surrounding the implant surface for adequate support and to minimize the chances of gum recession. But tooth loss often leads to bone loss that can drop its thickness below this threshold. This can make placing an implant problematic.
Fortunately, though, we may be able to address the lack of sufficient bone through bone grafting. By placing grafting material within the empty socket, we create a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon. Over time this subsequent growth may be enough to maintain an adequate thickness of bone for an implant to be placed.
The gums may also pose a problem if they've shrunk back or receded from their normal positions, as often happens because of gum disease (which may also have precipitated the tooth loss). Again, grafting procedures can help ensure there's adequate gum coverage for the implant. And healthier gums may also help protect the underlying bone from loss.
There are several techniques for placing gum tissue grafts, depending on how much recession has taken place. One procedure in particular is often used in conjunction with implant placement. A small layer of synthetic collagen material or gum tissue referred to as pa dermal apron is included with the implant when its placed. Settling into the bone socket, this apron helps thicken the gum tissues, as well as preserve the underlying bone.
During your preliminary exams, we'll assess your bone and gum health to determine if we should take any steps like these to improve them. It may add some time to the implant process, but the end result will be well worth it.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Immediate Dental Implants.”
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