Sleep apnea — you’ve probably heard someone mention this disorder before, but do you really understand what it is?

Most people equate sleep apnea with snoring. While snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, this disorder is much more problematic than sawing logs and disrupting other people’s sleep.

A lot of people are also surprised to learn that their dentist can help them diagnose, prevent, and stop sleep apnea. In fact, your dentist is essential in combating this disorder.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a medical condition where your breathing stops for dozens (or even hundreds) of times every night due to a blockage in your airway. These episodes can occur 20-30 times every hour!

During a sleep apnea episode, the oxygen levels in your blood drop and CO2 builds up. This triggers a rise in your blood pressure, startling you awake and kicking you out of deep sleep to restart proper breathing. This moment of waking is incredibly brief — so short that most people have no idea it’s happening.

Even if you’re unaware of this disruption in your sleep, you’ll notice it in the toll it takes on your everyday life. The constant wake-sleep, wake-sleep cycle prevents you from achieving the deep, restful sleep you need. And as we all know, sleep is very important for our health and wellness!

Fast Fact: 22 million people in the US suffer from sleep apnea, but 80% have no idea they have it.

Snoring is not the same as sleep apnea

Contrary to popular belief, sleep apnea and snoring are not one and the same. Here’s one way to think about it…

Sleep apnea almost always leads to loud and frequent snoring, but snoring isn’t always a sign of sleep apnea. 

If someone has mentioned that you snore, don’t automatically assume you have sleep apnea. However, it’s probably a good idea to get checked out to be sure.

Common symptoms of sleep apnea

You already know that snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, but there are others! Keep a lookout for the telltale signs of sleep apnea, including:

  • Sudden waking at night
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Severe morning headaches
  • Unexplained and sudden changes in mood

What causes sleep apnea?

There are a few factors that might be contributing to your sleep apnea disorder. First, people with the following characteristics tend to be more prone to sleep apnea than others:

  • Men
  • Over 40 years old
  • Overweight
  • Smokers
  • Large tonsils, small jaw
  • Family history of sleep apnea

All said, the true cause of your disorder will depend on what type of sleep apnea you’re suffering from. Yep, that’s right, there’s more than one type of sleep apnea! 


1. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea (also referred to as OSA) is the most common form of the disorder. This type of sleep apnea is caused by a blockage in your airway. This type of disorder is made significantly worse by obesity, large tongue and tonsils, aging, and head & neck shape. 


2. Central sleep apnea

Central sleep apnea is caused by a disruption in brain signals. With this type of sleep apnea, your brain is unable to send proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing.


3. Complex sleep apnea

Complex sleep apnea syndrome is a combination of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Someone with complex sleep apnea is dealing with an obstructed airway and disrupted brain signals.

On your own, it’s nearly impossible to know what kind of sleep apnea you’re dealing with. You can (and should) note any possible symptoms and risk factors, but turn to your dentist as a first line of defense. 

Manage sleep apnea at the dentist

Because sleep apnea is an airway health issue, your dentist (the person who specializes in teeth, gums, and mouth health) is one of the best chances of detecting and treating sleep apnea.

During your regular checkups and examples, make sure to mention if you’ve been experiencing any sleep apnea symptoms. Additionally, your dentist will be on the lookout for a few signs of the disorder.

Tooth grinding

This stress response in your body as a result of being startled awake is thought to increase muscle activity in the jaw and lead to tooth clenching and grinding. Additionally, when your throat begins to relax before a sleep apnea episode, studies show that your jaw may reflexively clamp down to help prevent your airway from being blocked. 

Issues in your jaw, tongue, and throat

Some physical indicators that your dentist will keep an eye out for include:

  • Small jaw bones
  • Large tongue and tonsils
  • Large neck 
  • Deviated septum
  • Redness in the throat (which is often the result of snoring)

If your dentist does notice signs of the disorder, and you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, we’ll work closely with you and your doctor to determine the best treatment.

One of the best treatment options, particularly for those who cannot tolerate a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (the most common form of treatment), we recommend a Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD).

This device closely resembles a sports mouth guard. It’s specially designed to gently keep the lower jaw in a forward position to help open your airway. Some MAD devices also prevent your tongue from falling back over your windpipe. 

What if I don’t treat my sleep apnea?

Even though sleep apnea is common, don’t think it’s not a serious problem. This disorder is believed to be a major contributing factor to life-threatening illnesses, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Brain injury

Don’t ignore the signs, risk factors, and symptoms of sleep apnea — doing so puts your health at risk.

Talk to a dentist today about sleep apnea

Dr. Waring is committed to helping patients prevent and treat complex airway issues like sleep apnea and snoring. He has completed extensive training in airway issues and offers non-surgical, personalized sleep apnea treatments.

Learn more about how we help our patients treat sleep apnea at Damonte Ranch Dental Care. Or, call (775) 329-8886 to schedule a sleep apnea consultation with Dr. Waring today.