Sleep apnea


Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where breathing is interrupted several times per hour, being usually associated with heavy snoring. Most people with sleep apnea are not aware of the gaps in breathing.

Around 22 million Americans have the disease, including adults and children, from which the majority remain undiagnosed due to lack of awareness by health professionals. This condition is divided into three types:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: the most common, caused by obstruction of the airway
  • Central sleep apnea: caused by changes in the central nervous system
  • Mixed or complex sleep apnea: a combination of central and obstructive types,

A bad bite is often associated with obstructive sleep apnea. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, consumption of alcohol, obesity and use of sedatives, can also contribute to the condition.



During the night: loud snoring every night, gasping, snorting, insomnia, dry mouth

During the day: headache, fatigue, poor mental alertness, irritability

Complications: can increase the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and liver complications; fatigue can affect life quality and performance at work.



A very common oral problem leading to obstructive sleep apnea is lack of space due to a bad bite. When there is adequate space, the tongue stays near the roof of the mouth, with no interference to breathing.

However, when the tongue is bigger than the available space in the mouth, it takes a more backward position. During deep sleep, when all the muscles relax completely, the tongue falls even further back, closing the passage of air.

In order to re-establish breathing, the person wakes up lightly and then falls asleep again. The cycle of deep sleep/awakening repeats several times per hour, affecting overall quality of sleep.

Narrow arches and deep bites for instance can constrict the airway space both vertically, from top to bottom, and horizontally, from side to side, leaving very limited intra-oral space.

Lack of adequate saliva production during the night (dry mouth), combined with a diet high in sugar and lack of proper oral hygiene due to chronic sleep deprivation can increase the risk for tooth decay and gum disease in people with sleep apnea.

In addition, the chronic low levels of oxygen in the blood affect several body functions, increasing the risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.



Most cases of obstructive sleep apnea have a bad bite component associated with lack of space. The orthodontist can greatly contribute to the improvement of this condition.

In mild cases, the use of customized orthodontic devices during the night can improve the position of the tongue, thus facilitating breathing. In more severe cases, it might be necessary to correct the bad bite by changing teeth and jaw alignment to make more space.

Through clear aligner therapy, the bad bite can be successfully corrected to improve sleep apnea. This is a very convenient option, especially for adults, since it does not affect cosmetic appearance (the aligners are thin, clear and custom-made) nor everyday life (they are removable, facilitating cleaning and eating).

Hence, orthodontic treatment can increase the space in the mouth to open the airways and improve airflow. This results in deeper sleep and less snoring, which not only improves oral health, but general health and wellbeing.

If you need more information on medical orthodontics and how it can improve sleep apnea, contact your orthodontist today.

Read more about sleep apnea and how orthodontic treatment can alleviate this condition.