How Early Intervention With Functional Appliances Help Open Kids' Airways

Functional orthodontics focuses on more than your child’s appearance. It also deals with the complex functioning of their jaw. At Aesthetic Dentistry of Bernardsville, Dr. Patti Swaintek-Lamb understands the intricate balance of your jaw’s muscles, teeth, nerves, bones, and airway in your overall health. Functional appliances can balance all of these components to keep them working together properly while also balancing your child’s facial structure.

One of the most significant aspects of proper jaw function is your airway. But, for functional orthodontics to effectively open this airway, intervention must begin at a young age.

The role the jaw plays with the airway

Your jaw acts as a structural support for the airway. If the jaw presses backward out of alignment, it can cause your child’s airway to narrow. One of the most common causes of a jaw’s backward movement is breathing through your mouth.

Mouth breathing in children is often the result of swollen tonsils or adenoids that obstruct their nasal passages, forcing them to breathe through their mouth. Breathing through the nose with the tongue resting against the roof of the mouth while teeth and lips are pressed together helps maintain your oral structures. Continual mouth breathing causes the jaw and tongue to shift out of position, and this can lead to structural changes in the jaw.

When your jaw and tongue move out of their natural positions, the development of your child’s dental arches is affected as well as the delicate balance of muscles, teeth, nerves, and bones. As these elements shift out of position, the curvature of the upper jaw narrows, leaving less room for your child’s sinus passages. In turn, the lower jaw pushes back, affecting how it and your airway function.

Among the issues that can accompany a narrowed airway are snoring, dizziness, and sleep apnea. Improper jaw alignment can also stress the temporomandibular joints, leading to TMJ disorders like facial pain or tenderness, difficulty chewing, and chronic headaches.

Functional appliances and jaw development

Your teeth and jaw function don’t develop overnight, but rather over several years. Dr. Swaintek-Lamb is an experienced aesthetic dentist who practices facial orthotropics — or facial growth guidance. With her expertise, she can identify potential problems in your child’s teeth and jaw before they arise. Dr. Swaintek-Lamb then offers advice on restoring the balance and function of all the jaw’s components. Intervention at an early age reduces the amount of force needed to shape the jaw by enabling your child’s jaw development to progress correctly.

In some cases, functional appliances are appropriate for children as young as 4 years old, but they’re typically the most effective when girls are 10-13 and boys are 11-14. Dr. Swaintek-Lamb works closely with you to identify the most opportune time for your child’s treatment to begin. At Aesthetic Dentistry of Bernardsville, she usually recommends a three-stage process of treatment from Biobloc Orthotropics® to support open airways and healthy jaw position development.

Stage 1: Hang expancer

The first functional appliance is the Hang expancer. Your child wears this device 24 hours a day for 4-6 months. The expancer is designed to open up the upper jaw and encourage forward growth. This ideal jaw position opens up narrow sinus passages and your child’s airway.

While your child wears the Hang expancer, they have office visits every 4-6 weeks so Dr. Swaintek-Lamb can monitor their progress.

Stage 2: Biobloc appliance and Hang retainer

During the second stage of treatment, your child wears a Biobloc appliance or Hang retainer all of the time, depending on the circumstances. The Biobloc appliance is a hard acrylic device with an archwire that offers adjustable and controlled jaw expansion. This stage promotes correct oral posture with the tongue resting on the roof of your mouth while lips and teeth are together.

Your child wears the Biobloc appliance 24 hours a day and removes it only to eat or play sports; on those occasions, your child switches to the Hang retainer. This treatment stage lasts 12-18 months, and Dr. Swaintek-Lamb tracks your child’s progress every 4-6 weeks to make adjustments if needed.

Stage 3: Biobloc retention

When your child reaches the final stage of treatment, they gradually reduce the amount of time they wear their functional appliance, eventually wearing it only at night until their permanent teeth come in. At that time, Dr. Swaintek-Lamb works with you to determine if braces are necessary.

To see if a functional appliance can correct your child’s jaw alignment and open their airway, call or schedule a worry-free consultation with Dr. Swaintek-Lamb online today.

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