sleep appliances
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A perfect, unobstructed, smooth-flowing and properly functioning airway would be my wish for everyone.

My second wish would be to treat the “root cause” of the compromised airflow, whether it be orthodontic expansion, surgically facilitated orthodontic treatment (SFOT), mandibular advancement surgery, rhinoplasty and sinus reconstruction, or maybe just eliminating allergens and learning to breathe through the nose again, or any combination thereof.

But what about the patient for whom a mandibular advancement device is the appropriate treatment for better sleep and airway?

mandibular advancement device mold
mandibular advancement device

Whether temporary or long-term, there are patients who need an appliance to “help them get worse at the slowest possible rate,” as Bob Barkley so eloquently stated.

The patient understands that they are compromised and could do more about their problem. Yet they don’t.

But they might still need dentistry. Yet they are having their mandible pulled forward every night. And teeth might move. And skeletal structures might change. Why would we do more than “repair” them, addressing issues only as they arise? Why would we want to even discuss optimal treatment? 

Every patient is entitled to know what optimal is, the benefit, the likely consequences of suboptimal and the compromises of anything less. The process for the dentist can still be systematic, interdisciplinary in nature and somewhat predictable. 

The dilemma

Perfected occlusion, as Dawson describes it, is “...simultaneous equal intensity contacts on all teeth when the condyle-disc assemblies are completely seated in their respective sockets,” and “the disclusion of all posterior teeth the moment the mandible moves from centric relation.”1

This sounds somewhat counter-intuitive since pulling the mandible forward every night has long been known, and currently confirmed in the literature, to cause unpredictable changes, while opening the airway.

jaw airway radiograph
patient dental radiographs on imaging program

One 11-year study showed that, “clinically significant changes in occlusion were observed and were progressive in nature. Rather than reaching a discernible end-point, the dental side effects of MAS therapy continue with ongoing MAS use.”2

Maybe slightly less discouraging, yet an undeniable consequence that we have all seen to some extent and that is also in current literature, is that, “the use of MADs may lead to the development of TMD in a small number of patients. Nevertheless, these signs are most likely transient. Patients with pre-existing signs and symptoms of TMD do not experience significant exacerbation of those signs and symptoms with MAD use.

Furthermore, these may actually decrease over time. POB (posterior open bite) was found to develop in 17.9 percent of patients; however, only 28.6 percent of these patients were aware of any bite changes.”3

So, how does one even begin to plan possible treatment in such an unpredictable environment?

Systematic approach to visualize optimal esthetics and function

Understanding the current condition of the entire stomatognathic system and visualizing the ideal end result must always be a starting point. If we don’t begin with the optimal end in mind, how can we ever know what is possible and how any compromise might affect the otherwise optimal treatment?

A systematic approach helps shed light beyond the confusing starting point. You might be refer to it as Global Diagnosis, Diagnostically Driven Treatment Planning, or Facially Generated Treatment Planning, to name a few. The name is less important than the process for treatment planning, ranging from simple to complex. When working from the face or from the outside in, “the outcome of the esthetic treatment plan will be enhanced without sacrificing the structural, functional and biological aspects of the patient's dentition.”4

esthetic treatment planning

A recent article describes a case study restoring a 29-year-old woman with a history of stomach-acid-related reflux and extensive loss of tooth structure, similar to what we see in many patients with airway or sleep issues. The author noted that the goal was to, “improve the prognosis in each of the four dental categories-periodontal, biomechanical, functional, and dentofacial,” and that, “the treatment plan utilized a systematic approach to sequentially restore and protect the young woman's dentition.” 5

The verbiage is less important than the process. However, what might be more important when restoring a patient whose mandible is being held forward on a nightly basis is understanding and visualizing a stable physiologic position which will be challenged by the appliance.

A fully-seated condylar position has been shown to be an optimal position at which to restore a patient when the joint space and disc are healthy, albeit controversial at times. Several recent studies demonstrate that, “the condylar position is an important concern in maintaining or restoring temporomandibular harmony with the dentition and the position of the condyle in the glenoid fossa plays an important role in the stability of occlusion,”6 and that it, “contributes not only as a reference position to build optimal occlusion in artificial dentition, but is also related to sound periodontal health and stomatognatic function.”7

Visualizing the ideal function can be done using models to better understand the structure necessary to achieve the function and the likely compromises to suboptimal.

testing occlusion to understand function
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Once the ideal esthetics and function have been visualized, a key to restoring most patients, but especially patients wearing a MAD, is to involve the interdisciplinary team when discussing the ideal structure and supporting biology, to better understand the possible shortcomings due to the compromise of wearing the appliance, and maybe more important, options for carefully and predictably phasing the treatment.

interdisciplinary dental team

Interdisciplinary Communication

Teeth may drift, treatment might need to be phased, or the occlusion might be compromised, all of which and more would benefit from intentional interaction with our specialists.

A recent article illustrates well that, “the physiologic tooth position is determined by interactions between the periodontal tissue and occlusal, tongue, and lip forces,” which seems suspiciously familiar to conditions related to airway. It continues to illustrate that often a force or condition (similar to wearing an appliance that pulls the mandible forward every night), “disturbs the equilibrium of these interactive balances, leading to pathologic tooth migration, often requiring multidisciplinary treatment approaches,” and also reinforces the benefit of, “a systematic periodontal-orthodontic-prosthetic treatment for achieving the optimal structural, functional, and esthetic outcomes.”8

A recent case study involving a patient with severe attrition, again similar to what we see in patients with airway and sleep issues, reinforces, “how a stable occlusion can be obtained inexpensively. The end result of the segmented treatment remained optimal and esthetic,”9 demonstrating once more the benefit of not only visualizing the optimal final result, but also including specialists in the process, creating an option for the patient to be ideally restored, regardless of time, money or dental compromises.

Appropriate treatment

When the dentist has a clear vision and holds what is possible for the patient as a legitimate option, conversations change and treatment becomes more predictable, fun and appropriate. The esthetic outcome is visualized, the functional outcome is founded on sound principles, the structure (restorative material, including enamel) is clear, especially with respect to longevity and phasing, and the biology to support the structure, including possible compromises, is clear.

Finally, the condition and treatment of the airway is understood, also including any compromises it will have on any of or all four other categories. 

A recent article describes how, “direct resin composite restorations made with the stamp technique are a valuable treatment option for restoring erosively worn dentitions,”10 illustrating that a systematic approach involving the interdisciplinary team allows the dentist to better identify what material makes most sense to restore patients, even patients who are wearing mandibular advancement devices.

A patient wearing a MAD can certainly be restored to an optimal esthetic and functional stomatognathic environment.

testing occlusion
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Moreover, understanding the compromise that the appliance brings to the system and the ideal restorative plan, steps can be taken to maintain, as much as possible, the appropriate result with respect to the esthetics, function, structure and biology for that patient.

The best and most appropriate way to “help our patient get worse at the slowest possible rate,” while supporting the “restored” patient, as opposed to the “repair as things break down” mentality might be as simple as a morning deprogramming appliance to remind the body where to go and reinforce a more physiologic and stable environment.

creating sleep appliance for optimal airway treatment
optimal airway treatment using appliances

Even a patient who is sending the entire stomatognathic system into a frenzy every night by wearing a MAD deserves the option to be optimally restored in a predictable manner, while all parties involved understand the compromises until the root cause is addressed and corrected. 

Kevin Kwiecien, D.M.D., M.S., Spear Faculty and Contributing Author

(Click this link to read more dentistry articles by Kevin Kwiecien. This article was originally published in Dental Sleep Practice.)


1. Dawson, P. Functional Occlusion: From TMJ to Smile Design, 2007, Mosby, Inc., p.32

2. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014 Dec 15;10(12):1285-91. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.4278. Obstructive sleep apnea and mandibular advancement splints: occlusal effects and progression of changes associated with a decade of treatment. Pliska BT1, Nam H1, Chen H1, Lowe AA1, Almeida FR1.

3. Sleep Breath. 2013 Mar;17(1):323-32. doi: 10.1007/s11325-012-0695-1. Epub 2012 Apr 4.The incidence and prevalence of temporomandibular disorders and posterior open bite in patients receiving mandibular advancement device therapy for obstructive sleep apnea.

4. J Am Dent Assoc. 2006 Feb;137(2):160-9. Interdisciplinary management of anterior dental esthetics. Spear FM1, Kokich VG, Mathews DP.

5. Perez CV1, de Leeuw R, Okeson JP, Carlson CR, Li HF, Bush HM, Falace DA. Compend Contin Educ Dent. 2012 Sep;33(8):606, 608, 610 passim. A systematic approach to recreate a patient's former smile. Afshar A.

6. J Contemp Dent Pract. 2016 Aug 1;17(8):679-86. Improved Visualization and Assessment of Condylar Position in the Glenoid Fossa for Different Occlusions: A CBCT Study. Kaur A1, Natt AS2, Mehra SK3, Maheshwari K4, Singh G2, Kaur A2.

7. Minerva Stomatol. 2011 Oct;60(10):543-9.The controversial issue of centric relation: a historical and current dental perspective? Chhabra A1, Chhabra N, Makkar S, Sharma A.

8. Int J Periodontics Restorative Dent. 2012 Apr;32(2):225-30. A multidisciplinary approach for the management of pathologic tooth migration in a patient with moderately advanced periodontal disease. Kim YI1, Kim MJ, Choi JI, Park SB.

9. Compend Contin Educ Dent. 2016 Jun;37(6):390-4. Segmenting Full-Mouth Reconstruction to Enable Financial Feasibility. Duffield LD1.

10. J Adhes Dent. 2015 Jun;17(3):283-9. doi: 10.3290/j.jad.a34135. Posterior Vertical Bite Reconstructions of Erosively Worn Dentitions and the "Stamp Technique" - A Case Series with a Mean Observation Time of 40 Months. Ramseyer ST, Helbling C, Lussi A.




Commenter's Profile Image Carl S.
June 18th, 2017
Thanks for sharing Kevin This topic can be confusing and may be a bit more as we learn more about airway and OSA. I am glad Spear is taking the lead in developing protocols and strategies to help us understand and treat. Carl
Commenter's Profile Image James C.
June 21st, 2017
I have seen these situations and it would be helpful to me to follow definitive treatment in some cases and understand the input of specialists. There is a problem at times working with specialists that do not have an understanding of structure and function as presented in FGTP. I see this in poor orthodontic results that the patient is told is acceptable.