Sleep Apnea Dentistry

Sleep Apnea:

Sleep apnea and airway obstruction is a problem that affects more people than you’d think. It’s a far-reaching health complication that affects people of all sizes and physical conditions-not just overweight men who snore. This condition, which often goes undiagnosed, is on the rise among many populations, affecting an estimated 9 percent of women and 24 percent of men according to the Cleveland Clinic. Luckily, working with a sleep apnea dentist can help naturally correct sleep apnea and alleviate its symptoms.

Many of sleep apnea’s causes have roots in how the human palate has changed over time. As we’ve moved to modern food sources, our food has become softer and requires less chewing. As a result, our airways and the bones of our jaws are shrinking, making populations we wouldn’t traditionally associate with sleep apnea prime candidates for the condition.

Untreated sleep apnea creates several problems, including:

  • Long interruptions of breathing (more than 10 seconds) during sleep caused by partial or total obstruction or blockage of the airway.
  • Strain on the heart. Prolonged suffering from obstructive sleep apnea often results in high blood pressure and may cause enlargement of the heart, with higher risks of heart attack and stroke.
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood. This can lead to constricted blood vessels in the lungs and eventually pulmonary hypertension.
  • Obesity. Poor sleep leads to obesity.
  • Frequent waking from sleep , even though you may not realize it.
  • Light sleeping. People with obstructive sleep apnea sleep lightly to try to keep their throat muscles tense enough to maintain airflow.
  • Poor night’s sleep. Many sufferers of untreated obstructive sleep apnea end up sleeping lightly as a way of attempting to try and keep their throat muscles tense enough to maintain airflow.
  • Chronic headaches. Snorers often report frequent morning headaches, which are due to the alterations in the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness.

While snoring and insomnia are often the symptoms most associated with sleep apnea, other telltale signs include daytime fatigue, mental fogginess & mouth breathing, leading to a dry mouth or sore throat in the mornings. Since sleep apnea and airway restriction affect the quality of sleep and the amount of oxygen your body can take in, it’s a condition that can lead to more serious complications including hypertension, heart disease, dementia and diabetes.

At Monterey Peninsula Dental Group, Dr. Stephen Ikemiya is our sleep apnea dentist and TMJ treatment expert, two issues which are often interconnected. Dr. Ikemiya has extensive education on airway-related dentistry and has been treating sleep apnea patients for over twenty years. Over his career, he’s developed a treatment philosophy which emphasizes the minimally-invasive process of widening the palates and airways of his patients, rather than treating sleep apnea cases with expensive and often ineffective sleep apnea appliance oral devices.

What does the sleep apnea treatment process entail?

At MPDG, the treatment of sleep apnea is a diagnostic and consultative process. Each patient is different and while some are best treated through dentistry, others may benefit more from other forms of a treatment option.

  1. Diagnosis & Consultation: We perform a thorough diagnosis on all patients who suspect they’re having symptoms of sleep airway obstruction. During an initial appointment, the patient will be asked to speak about their health history and sleep habits. Dr. Ikemiya will take measurements of the airway and evaluate the patient’s bone structure and jaw placement.
  2. Home Sleep Study Test: Typically, a patient is asked to track their sleep health with a home sleep study test to measure their breathing efficiency while sleeping. The patient collects information about the quality of their sleep to help form a proper diagnosis during a follow up appointment.
  3. Additional Diagnostics: If the patient’s home sleep test indicates that they are suffering from sleep apnea, Dr. Ikemiya may order additional tests to discover the root of the issue. Sleep apnea is occasionally caused by nasal polyps and a CAT scan can help determine whether a patient is best treated through conservative dental measures or by another specialist.
  4. Treatment: Depending on the patient’s unique case, Dr. Ikemiya puts together a personalized treatment plan. Treatable cases of sleep apnea are often contributed to by a patient’s small arch or palate, which causes the tongue to obstruct the airway while sleeping. Common treatments involve the expansion of the palate by orthopedic expansion, a small oral appliance device that applies gentle pressure to the expansion joints in the upper mouth to widen the bone over time.

Dr. Ikemiya always seeks to treat sleep apnea and airway obstruction in minimally-invasive, non-surgical manners, helping patients avoid reliance on CPAP masks or mandibular advancement devices wherever possible.

How Can the LightWalker Laser Speed Airway Expansion?

In addition to the treatment of sleep apnea and airway obstruction through the expansion of the palate, Monterey Peninsula Dental Group is able to offer some temporary relief using dental devices called a LightWalker Nightlase Laser. Treatment with the laser helps to reduce excessive soft tissue that is obstructing the airway, and typically leads to airway expansion of 50%, allowing patients to breathe better immediately.

The airway expansion delivered by treatment using the Lightwalker Laser is temporary and isn’t a good substitute to a more ongoing, permanent treatment of your sleep apnea. However, it’s an excellent supplementary treatment to help patients achieve quicker results during a larger treatment plan which includes palate and airway expansion.

What sort of results have patients achieved?

Patients engaging in airway therapy have reported many benefits aside from the treatment of their sleep apnea including better sleep free of snoring, improved hormone balances and lower blood pressure. Since treatment centers on the expansion of the face and airway, many patients achieve a more attractive facial structure as a result of the natural widening of facial bone structure and the proper placement of the jaw. Patients typically complete treatment with an expanded airway, allowing them to breathe better when both asleep and awake and enjoy heightened mental clarity from their improved oxygen intake.

If you’d like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Ikemiya for any of your dental or airway-related treatment needs, please request an appointment using the form below.

What technology does Monterey Peninsula Dental Group use?

We use the Fotona Lightwalker laser to help tighten the tissue in the back of the throat to reduce snoring and increase the size of the airway.


This page has been reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Stephen Ikemiya, a partner at MPDG who completed dental school at Northwestern University. Click here to follow him on Linkedin.

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