What is Osbrtuctive Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is an anatomical condition where a person’s airway becomes so narrowed or even blocked that they can no longer breathe. This stoppage of breath causes the oxygen levels in a persons blood to drop to unsafe levels effectively starving every organ of oxygen. If this occurs between 5-14 times per hour it is considered Mild OSA, 15-29 times per hour is considered Moderate OSA and 30 or more times per hour is Severe OSA.

What causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

OSA is an anatomic issue. When a person’s jaws don’t fully develop or grow to their full genetic potential they end up with smaller, set back jaws. This is often visible and will show up in a couple of different ways. Crooked teeth, highly vaulted narrow palate and a facial profile that looks like a small set back chin are the most common. When the jaw is narrow and set back it forces a persons tongue to set low and back into the airway space. Often times this arrangement will lead to mouth breathing in addition to snoring and apnea. Once a person falls asleep, especially on their back, their muscles relax and can allow that pushed back tongue and soft palate to fall further back into the airway causing a blockage.

What happens to your body when you have sleep apnea?

When your brain senses that it is losing oxygen it kicks your body into fight or flight mode. Within seconds your brain tells your body increase your heart rate in hopes of sending more oxygenated blood to the brain so that brain cells don’t start to die. When that doesn’t work it tells your head, neck and facial muscles to contract. This is an effort to brace and pull open the blocked airway but it also causes clenching and grinding of the teeth.  The lungs and diaphragm continue to try to breath in but when there is a blockage that effort causes a vacuum to form in your esophagus which may reflux stomach contents into your airway.  If that still doesn’t work you will begin to wake up until you are able to gasp or move enough to free the blockage.

These frequent bouts of a racing heart are hard on your circulatory system that should be busy repairing itself from the days damage. When more damage is occuring and not enough repair you become at risk for serious health issues such as heart attack and stroke. When you have frequent awakenings your body doesn’t get enough deep sleep or REM sleep. Lack of deep sleep causes things like weight gain, memory loss, fatigue, insulin resistance and skin wrinkles. This can occur in children as well but their overtired state can be mistaken for hyperactivity and their memory loss can be labeled as poor school performance. There isn’t an organ or tissue in the body that does well with a lack of oxygen or a lack of sleep.

What can I do about it?

For patients with severe OSA the best treatment is either jaw advancement surgery performed by an oral surgeon or a CPAP machine worn over the face to blow air into the airway keeping it “blown” open. If you can not tolerate the CPAP or you have a milder form of sleep apnea then a mandibular advancement device may be a better option. An oral device that slips on over your teeth and retains your lower jaw in a more forward poistion works by holding the tongue out of the airway. There are many styles and designs on the market each with their own advantages.
We really like the Narval CC by Resmed due to how thin and durable it is. This designs maximizes tongue space which is the main goal, keeping the tongue in the mouth and out of the airway. If the soft palate is also creating blockages then the NightLase procedure may be right for you.
Correcting the underlying anatomical malformation can also be a good strategy for improving someone’s airway. Orthodontic treatment to correct crooked teeth, widening the palate if it is too high and narrow can be helpful too. Often times these improper growth issue are a result of an undiagnosed tongue tie or other improper muscles patterns like a reverse swallow. A frenectomy can be performed to correct the tied tongue and myofunctional therapy can retain bad muscle habits and improve nasal breathing. The cause of OSA can be multifaceted and the treatment needs to be too. The goal is to improve or maximize the airway space as much as medically possible with the least amount of invasiveness possible.

What is Nightlase?

Nightlase™ is a fast, non-invasive way for sufferers of snoring and sleep apnea to increase the quality of sleep. It has a high success rate in producing positive change in sleep patterns by increasing the airway. Nightlase™ requires no device to be worn during sleep, involves no chemical treatment, and no anesthesia.

NEW! Laser treatment for reduction of snoring and mild to moderate sleep apnea.  Nightlase™ is a fast, non-invasive technique for the treatment of snoring. Gentle laser light energy tightens and elevates the soft palate to increase the airway and reduce the intensity of snoring. Treatment requires no needles, anesthesia or chemicals. The technique can also be in conjunction with either the CPAP machine or oral devices for the treatment of sleep apnea. It offers a great alternative to those that cannot tolerate the CPAP or other common treatments. This technique has been utilized with great success in Europe for many years, and it is now being offered in the United States.

nightlase2How does it work?

Superficial laser light energy gently heats the tissue, causing tightening and toning of the soft tissues. This reduces intensity of snoring and opens the airway allowing easier breathing. The laser energy causes new collagen formation in the treated area. Unlike other treatments, there is no cutting or removal of any tissue.

How long does it take?

Your consultation appointment will be about a half an hour, where we will evaluate if Nightlase™ is right for you. The procedure is performed in three separate 30 minute sessions over 6 weeks with the results lasting up to a year. Patient often notice a difference in snoring right away, though best results are evident after all three sessions. When loved ones notice the tissue relaxing again and snoring becoming more frequent, another session of treatment can usually be performed to continue the restful sleep.

Does it hurt?

Nightlase™ is virtually painless during and after the procedure. During the procedure, patients usually experience the feeling of heat on the area. This heat is desirable, because it means the laser energy is working. Some patients experience a mild sore throat the next day, and we advise drinking plenty of water after the procedure. There is no down time after the procedure and normal activities resume immediately without restrictions.


Designer Dentistry & Smiles is the first in the Sioux Falls area to be qualified to provide Nightlase™ snoring treatment for our patients. Please contact our office for a consultation to find out whether you might be a good candidate for this treatment.

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