Dental Sleep Medicine Research

Our research currently focusses on "Dental Sleep Medicine", which is research into and treatment of sleep related breathing problems, such as snoring and sleep apnea. Often these problems can be alleviated with dental appliances that fit over the teeth and that pull the lower jaw forward. This increases the diameter of the upper airways in the throat and prevents them from collapsing. This reduces snoring and sleep apnea, and improves sleep quality and health. This techique works well for people where snoring is caused in the upper throat airways. A disadvantage is that in some persons the teeth may move with time, due to the constant pulling forces at night. So a good balance between improved sleep and health, but not too much discomfort has to be sought.

The picture above shows the difference in the upper throat airways (blue) without antisnoring device (left), and with an antisnoring device (right), in a patient where it works well. Usually these antisnoring devices are named "MAD" or "MRA", short for Mandibular Advancement Device, resp. Mandibular Repositioning Appliance.

There do exist a lot of different MRA types and models. Main categories are (1) custom-made models adapted to the patient, which are sometimes equiped with data sensors; and (2) so-called "boil-and-bite" models, which are standard models that are softened in hot water, after which the patient bites in it and waits until the model is solidified again. Custom models are often more comfortable and give a better fit, and are thus preferred. Boil-and-bite models are good for initial tryouts, to see if it works.

At our Lab Dental Materials we focus on the mechanical aspects of this research, for example we developed appliances and measurement-devices for use in the hospital. The technologies used combine traditional techniques such as moulding and casting and modern 3D-CAD design and 3D-printing.

We also did mechanical measurements and fatigue tests on antisnoring appliances. These measurements were done on a computer controlled hydraulic test machine.

Patient care and Treatment of apnea and snoring is done at the nearby University Hospital of Antwerp (= UZA - Universitair Ziekenhuis Antwerpen). See: www.uza.be/behandeling/behandeling-van-slaapapneu-en-snurken (link opens in new window)

Development, 3D-design, and 3D-printing of lab equipment and dental appliances

In-house development of research equipment and appliances includes: microshear fatigue testing machine, flexural fatigue testing machine, various sample clamps, other machine parts, driver- and signal-conditioning electronics, LabVIEW programming, CAD-design of dedicated dental appliances in 3D, lab equipment, all sorts of prototyping via 3D-printing, etc...

Research into bonding strength of dental materials

Previous research areas focused on the strength of dental materials, the strength of dental bondings and their resistance to failure. Chewing-movements in the mouth create a lot of mechanical stress on teeth and on dental fillings and their bondings. This causes fatigue phenomena, such as cracks and fractures. In our lab, we can simulate dental restorations in vitro in our fatigue machines, and subject them to well controlled loads. But due to retirements, this research line is no longer continued.