Airway-Friendly Orthodontics

Exploring Airway-Friendly Orthodontics

Airway-friendly orthodontics represents a specialized approach within orthodontic practice, prioritizing the consideration of airway dynamics in devising treatment plans for new patients. While conventional orthodontics primarily concentrates on aligning the bite and straightening teeth, it often overlooks the intricate relationship between the airway and dental structure. Surprisingly, the majority of orthodontists lack the capability for 3-D imaging, and among those equipped with such technology, a significant majority neglect to factor in airway considerations during treatment planning.  3-D imaging is required to diagnose airway issues, thus making the technology vital.

Why Airway-Friendly Orthodontics?

The increasing recognition of airway-friendly orthodontics stems from its acknowledgment of the profound impact that airway function can exert on oral and facial development. A restricted or obstructed airway can induce mouth breathing, triggering adverse changes in dental structures. Mouth breathing frequently correlates with a high-arched palate, dental discoloration, misalignment, and crowding.  In some instances, it may contribute to an elongated facial structure and complications in speech and swallowing.

Identifying Signs and Symptoms

There are many signs and symptoms to look for when diagnosing or identifying a potential airway issue.  These may include habitual tongue thrusting, nocturnal teeth grinding, nasal congestion, disrupted sleep patterns, nocturnal bed wetting, restless sleep, malocclusions like crossbites and open bites, academic underperformance, manifestations resembling attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), memory difficulties, and even restless leg syndrome. Early identification of these indicators is pivotal, with assessments feasible as early as five years of age.

Evaluation of Airway Issues

During evaluations, orthodontists utilize advanced imaging technologies such as the i-CAT digital imaging scanner, capturing comprehensive 3D images of teeth, airways, and sinuses. These detailed scans facilitate precise diagnosis and formulation of tailored treatment plans. Sleep studies may further aid in diagnosing airway-related sleep disturbances, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of patients' needs.


A diverse array of treatment modalities exists for addressing airway issues. Palatal expansion devices prove effective in alleviating crowding and expanding the palate, thereby enhancing airflow and respiratory function. Additionally, sleep appliances can reposition the jaw, effectively widening the airway and promoting restorative sleep. Growth appliances represent another valuable intervention.  It has been found that using growth appliances at the pubertal growth spurt, can enhance the growth of the lower jaw, improving the airway and profile of the patient. 

Benefits of Airway-Friendly Orthodontic Treatment

Embracing airway-friendly orthodontics can have multifaceted benefits that extend beyond mere dental correction. By optimizing sleep quality, this approach contributes to overall health and well-being. Enhanced facial aesthetics, improved lip support, and greater dental stability are notable outcomes. Moreover, evidence suggests a positive correlation between airway-focused interventions and educational performance, potentially translating into improved academic achievement.


In essence, airway-friendly orthodontics embodies a holistic paradigm shift, recognizing the intricate connection between airway function and oral health. By addressing airway concerns alongside traditional orthodontic objectives, practitioners can foster comprehensive treatment outcomes, promoting not only dental harmony but also systemic wellness and enhanced quality of life.