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What Is Sleep Apnea?

Roughly one in three Americans report getting less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Many of these cases are due to sleep apnea, and most people with the condition aren’t even aware of it. Learn more about sleep apnea, what it is, and how it impacts your dental health.

Sleep Apnea at a Glance

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a disruption in breathing during sleep. This leads to snoring and waking up several times throughout the night. The condition affects about 22 million Americans, though three out of four people with the condition aren’t aware they have it.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three main types of sleep apnea: 

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The most common type, occurs when the upper airway becomes partially or completely blocked multiple times during sleep, resulting in reduced or completely stopped airflow.
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA): Caused by a lack of proper signals from the brain to the muscles responsible for controlling breathing, leading to a disruption in the breathing pattern during sleep. This type of apnea can also be caused by other health conditions that affect the brain’s control over the chest and airways. 
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome (CSAS): Complex sleep apnea syndrome (CSAS) is characterized by the coexistence of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA), involving both upper airway blockages and insufficient signals from the brain to control breathing during sleep.

Is Sleep Apnea Genetic?

Researchers estimate that about 40% of sleep disorder is hereditary, while the remaining 60% is environmental. Those who have family members with sleep apnea are at an elevated risk of developing the condition.

Symptoms and Treatment

Here are the common signs that may indicate you have this sleep disorder.

  • Nightly snoring
  • Waking up multiple times every night
  • Feeling restless and tired even after a full night’s sleep
  • Having a dry mouth or a sore throat in the morning

The most common treatment is to use a CPAP mask. A CPAP mask is hooked to a machine that delivers a steady stream of air to your nose and mouth during sleep. This keeps your airways open, as opposed to constantly closing and opening during a sleep apnea episode. Beyond a CPAP mask, other lifestyle changes may also help. This includes:

  • Keeping an air humidifier in the bedroom
  • Sleeping on your stomach or side; sleeping on your back may cause your tongue and soft palate to partly block the airway.
  • Quitting or reducing smoking. Smokers are 5 times more likely to develop sleep apnea. Cigarette smoke irritates the airway, leading to swelling in the upper airway.

Can Sleep Apnea Be Cured?

There are two approaches that may permanently eliminate the sleep disorder. One method is to lose weight. Excess body fat around the airways can inhibit breathing. Studies also show a strong correlation between sleep apnea and a high body mass index. Half the people with the condition are either overweight or obese. However, sleep apnea affects normal-weight people as well, so excess weight isn’t always the cause.

Another possible cure is through obstructive sleep apnea surgery. Several surgical operations are available, including the pillar procedure, palatal pharyngoplasty, and z-palatoplasty. These operations are all similar and designed to open your nasal passageway to enable unobstructive breathing.

Keep in mind that weight loss and nasal surgery results vary. In some patients, it may eliminate sleep apnea for good. In others, it may reduce the symptoms, though patients will still have to use a CPAP or continue to follow other preventive measures.

Sleep Apnea and Oral Health

If untreated, sleep apnea can lead to dental problems. People with the disorder are also at a high risk of grinding their teeth while asleep. The condition is known as bruxism. Constant teeth grinding can lead to a host of oral issues, including cracked and chipped teeth. It also wears on your teeth enamel.

Read also: Can I Treat Bruxism Naturally?

As mentioned, one symptom of sleep apnea is dry mouth in the morning. A dry mouth indicates a lack of saliva production. Low saliva allows bad mouth bacteria to proliferate.

Make an Appointment Today

If you know or suspect you have sleep apnea, then see a sleep specialist. Compromised sleep affects your overall health. You should also see your local dentist, as the sleep disorder may indirectly lead to dental problems.

Schedule an appointment with Maestri Dental today to identify and address dental issues associated with your sleep disorder!


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