What is airway focused dentistry?
The air you breathe supplies you with the oxygen your body needs to survive, thrive, and function optimally. Airway Dentistry is a growing field, focused on the structure of the mouth and the impact it has on breathing. An airway aware dentist knows how to identify underdevelopment of the mouth and jaws, as well as what signs and symptoms to look for that may indicate a breathing or sleep disorder. An airway dentist understands and respects the relationship between oral health and systemic health, and how underdeveloped mouth and airway structures can wreak havoc throughout the body. Breathing is life, and not getting enough air (A.K.A. oxygen) into the body can be detrimental to overall health and quality of life. By using the airway-centered approach to dental care, an airway dentist can identify the underlying structural cause of a sleep or airway issue and resolve symptoms.
There have been some very interesting changes happening to human beings over the past several hundred years. Thanks to the research of Dr. Weston Price, we have learned that the longest-lived societies on the planet had the best teeth, with broad, fully developed jaws, perfectly straight teeth, and little tooth decay and gum disease. As Dr. Price delved deeper into his research, he learned that the reason these populations had such wonderful oral health compared to the modern populations was due to diet and changes in oral structure over the passing generations. Modern society has an increasing number of people experiencing tooth decay, gum disease, crooked teeth, higher rates of cancer, heart attack, diabetes, and other diseases. We are no longer eating the diet of our ancestors, rich in minerals and fat-soluble vitamins, and devoid of highly processed foods.
Braces, retainers, wisdom teeth extractions, crowded teeth, malocclusion, jaw pain, sleep apnea, and tooth decay are all extremely common in today’s society. Initially it was blamed on genetics, but how is that possible when our ancestors did not experience the same conditions? More recent evidence points to changes in agriculture, sedentary lifestyle, industrialization, and cultural norm. Over the years, the human diet has softened. With the invention of things like processed foods, pouches for kids, and protein shakes – less chewing is needed to acquire adequate nutrition. Another contributing factor is a change in oral posture. Oral development largely depends on oral posture – the tongue resting on the roof of the mouth helps to shape the oral cavity. Through these changes over time, humans are now prone to underdevelopment of oral structures and consequently – airways.
“I am deeply interested not only in your health individually but in the efficiency and welfare of your families. It is particularly important in these times of industrial and financial stress, that children shall not suffer defects which may mark and handicap them for their entire life.”
-Dr. Weston Price
Disordered breathing is typically most pronounced during sleep, often making cases of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) go unnoticed and undiagnosed. Sleep-related breathing disorders are conditions of abnormal or difficult respiration during sleep. There are several types of sleep-related breathing disorders, ranging in severity.
Common Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders:
Central Sleep Apnea– causes your body to decrease or stop breathing during sleep in an on-and-off cycle
Snoring– this loud noise occurs as you sleep when the flow of air from breathing makes tissues in the back of your throat vibrate
Obstructive Sleep Apnea– periods of stopped breathing during sleep due to obstructions in the airway
Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS)– a narrowing of the airway causing sleep disruptions
An extremely common early warning sign of sleep apnea or sleep-related disordered breathing is snoring. While snoring is common, it is not normal. The person doing the snoring is typically unaware of the occurrence, it can keep your partner awake, and can also represent a more serious health risk.
Some Other Common Symptoms of Sleep-Related Disordered Breathing Are:
- Bruxism (clenching and grinding)
- Mouth Breathing
- Unusual Wear on the Biting Surfaces of Teeth
- Unexplained Broken Crowns or Fractured Teeth
- Brain Fog
- Forward Head Posture
- Chronic Fatigue
- Face, Neck, Shoulder, or Joint Pain
- Waking Up at Night Gasping for Air
- Dry Mouth Upon Waking Up
- Difficulty Concentrating
When left untreated, disordered breathing can cause or aggravate a long list of potential symptoms and more serious health conditions. Disordered breathing often worsens over time and can become life-threatening when left untreated.
Common Health Issues Associated with Disordered Breathing Are:
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD or ADHD)
- Memory Problems
- Gum Disease
- Upper Respiratory Infections
- Chronic Sinus Infections
- Chronic Pain
- Cardiovascular Disease
The Root Cause of Disordered Breathing
Dentists play an essential role in the care of patients with sleep related breathing disorders and are well positioned to identify patients who are at greater risk. Airway-focused dentists address the root cause of disordered breathing and provide solutions to treat the disorder at the source. Traditionally, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines have been the primary method of treating sleep apnea and other sleep-related disordered breathing. While using a machine to force air into your lungs during sleep works to provide your body with adequate oxygen and prevent airway collapse, CPAP is merely a band-aid, offering no real solution for the underlying cause.
An airway-focused dentist uses many diagnostic tools to assist in developing a personalized plan of treatment, beginning with a home sleep study when necessary, and a 3D scan that provides comprehensive information and measurements, identifying the root cause of the airway issue. The patient-centered care technique will precisely reflect the unique needs and desired clinical outcomes of each individual patient. With the use of epigenetic orthodontics, airway-centered dentistry uses advanced dental appliance therapy, activating your natural genetic potential and encouraging optimal development of the mouth and face. The best part is that addressing the underlying structural issues provides a permanent solution option.
Restoring Functional Breathing
Functional breathing is when air moves freely and silently through the nose without any obstruction. Underdevelopment of the oral structures often leaves inadequate space to accommodate the tongue. When the tongue does not fit in the oral cavity or is unable to achieve its proper resting position at the roof of the mouth, the tongue can become a breathing obstruction. As muscles relax during sleep and gravity sets in, the tongue collapses into the back of the throat, creating a potential blockage.
Through the dental appliance therapy process, an airway dentist can help achieve optimal growth of the jaws, allowing adequate room for the tongue to easily reach the proper resting position. As the upper palate (maxillary) expands, the nasal region expands, and the volume of the upper airway increases. By opening the airways and eliminating obstructions, functional breathing is easily restored. With restored functional breathing comes a long list of health improvements, enhancing your daily quality of life and oxygen flow.