Patenting a better night’s sleep

Community Editor
Photo by Jason DeMoe
Orthodontist Gregory Ross has patented a set of mouth pieces meant to combat sleep apnea.

Gregory Ross has been an orthodontist in Forest Lake at 1068 Lake St. since 2012. He is also a long-time sufferer of sleep apnea. Those two things recently came together as Ross secured a patent for an orthodontic device meant to combat the condition.

“Having sleep apnea myself, I tried a lot of different appliances, but I could not find one that I was completely comfortable with,” he said. “In my practice, I was doing a lot of Invisalign treatments and I had the idea to sort of merge the two technologies.”

According to Ross, sleep apnea occurs when a person’s lower jaw is set too far back. When the muscles relax during sleep, the tongue falls back and temporarily prevents breathing. These short stoppages of breath throughout the night results in poor sleep and can be more serious as the brain is oftentimes not getting enough oxygen during the stoppages. According to the National Sleep Foundation, severe cases of sleep apnea have been linked to high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.

“My original thought was just to find something to help myself as I was not comfortable wearing a breathing apparatus that included a face mask,” Ross said. “Once I started digitally designing oral devices for my patients meant to straighten their teeth, I knew I could use the same technology to make a device to help with my sleep apnea.”

Ross’s device consists of a custom formed set of mouth pieces for the upper and lower jaws. The two pieces lock together in a way that forces the lower jaw forward when the mouthpiece is worn. The tongue is connected to the lower jaw, and the positioning provided by the device prevents the tongue from falling back and causing breathing issues.

“As soon as I tried it, I realized that it was the most comfortable sleep apnea device that I had ever worn,” he said.

The gold standard device for sleep apnea patients is the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine, or CPAP, that forces air into the throat to keep the airway open during sleep. The device consists of a facemask that covers the nose and mouth. 

“The machine is the best treatment available if a patient wears it for at least four hours consistently every night,” Ross said. “However, what they are finding in some people is that they don’t like the machine covering their face and they are not wearing it like they should. Even the best medicine won’t do you any good if you don’t take it.”

With this in mind, Ross decided to market his oral device to his patients. The feedback was so positive that he decided to pursue a patent.

“It was a long process that took a lot of time and money, but ultimately I am glad that this happened, and I am looking forward to helping others that are in the same position I am in with the sleep apnea,” he said.

Currently, Ross can only prescribe his device to his own patients, as he is waiting on the FDA to approve the type of material used to 3D print the devices before it can see wider marketing. His ultimate plan is to get his device into the hands of his colleagues so it can be used with a wider variety of patients.

One unexpected result of Ross’s sleep apnea research has been a monumental shift in his orthodontic philosophy.

“I now have an early start program for kids ages 5 to 7 to help with arch development and tongue issues,” he said. “I am really working to catch some of these signs and symptoms early and doing some preventative maintenance to hopefully prevent some future sleep apnea issues. I really feel now like I am doing a lot more than just straightening teeth.”