If you look at an oral appliance used for sleep apnea and compare it to the plastic aligner trays used for orthodontic treatment, you might be struck by the similarity between the two and wonder if you could use an oral appliance to straighten your teeth.
That isn’t what they’re for, but it can be a side effect, which is why your sleep dentist needs to be aware of the impact of treatment on your bite and your teeth.
Origins of Oral Appliances
It’s been almost a hundred years since orthodontists described the obstruction of the airway by the tongue and proposed treatments for it. It was hypothesized that by moving the jaw forward, the airway could be cleared of the tongue. Either the tongue would move with the jaw, or the tongue would move after the jaw had moved, as it adapted to the new position.
But it wasn’t until the 1970s that people came to understand the true dimensions of sleep apnea and developed oral appliance therapy, partly building off the work of those early orthodontic explorations.
Differences of Appliances and Aligners
However, we still have to understand that oral appliances used for sleep apnea are not orthodontic aligners, even though they are similar. For one thing, your oral appliance isn’t designed to be worn as long as aligners are. In order to really straighten your teeth, aligners have to be worn for 20 hours or more a day. Wearing your oral appliance at night for 8 hours or so won’t have the same impact.
The other difference is that aligners are essentially designed as a sequence of disposable appliances. You get a new one every two weeks that you wear for a while to move your teeth a little bit. Oral appliances are designed for long-term wear. You will keep it for years, so the goal is to maintain your teeth in place.
Side Effects of Oral Appliances
Oral appliances can have a side effect of moving your teeth. It’s not long enough to reliably control tooth movements, but 8 hours is still a long time to subject your teeth to a particular balance of forces.
Unfortunately, in the hands of an untrained sleep dentist, an oral appliance is more likely to accentuate the forces that have contributed to the development of crooked teeth. They can make your teeth more crooked, cause increased tooth wear, and even lead to jaw problems like TMJ
But with a sleep dentist trained in neuromuscular dentistry, you can have an oral appliance that balances forces in your mouth to ensure a healthy state of forces for your teeth and jaws. We can’t say that your oral appliance will straighten your teeth, but we can say it won’t make it any worse, and there may be a net straightening. Your oral appliance may even help treat your TMJ