Sleep-Related Disorders & Dentistry

When most of us think of dentistry, the maintenance of our teeth immediately comes to mind. However, if you suffer from sleep apnea, your dentist may be one of the first practitioners to recognize this and offer treatment options.

The most common sleep breathing disorder is sleep apnea. It is a serious condition characterized by irregular breathing throughout sleep cycles with a lack of oxygen. During an episode, a person’s breathing can stop for at least 10 seconds. These episodes can occur between 10 to 60 times an hour. Depending on the severity of sleep apnea, the disorder can inhibit regular mental and physical health. Therefore, an early diagnosis can aid you a great deal towards treatment and better health.

Sleep apnea has three different classifications: obstructive apnea (OSA), central apnea or a combination of both. Obstructive apnea is the most common type of sleep breathing disorder. It is when the muscular walls of your throat relax excessively to the point where your airway begins to collapse. Central apnea, on the other hand, occurs due to a neurological gap when the brain fails to signal your muscles to breathe.


The biggest signal for sleep apnea is loud snoring. During OSA, the tongue often falls back into the airway, crowding the connective tissue in your neck which causes vibrations during breathing. This vibration is heard as loud snoring. Oftentimes, one’s partner is the first to notice the symptoms of sleep apnea.

Symptoms include loud snoring, interrupted by pauses in breath and then a choking sound as breathing resumes. Additionally, sleep apnea comes with extreme daytime fatigue, irritability, insomnia as well as waking up with a headache, dry mouth or sore throat.


According to a Frost and Sullivan report commissioned by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, approximately 5.9 million adults are diagnosed with OSA in the US. The study estimates that as many as 29.4 million Americans, or 12% of the US adult population, suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).


Considering the life-threatening risks associated with sleep apnea, it needs immediate treatment. Since a person can have several episodes overnight, sleep quality diminishes rapidly and is often accompanied by severe fatigue. Undiagnosed sleep apnea has been linked to various injuries due to this fatigue. When behind the wheel, sleep apnea patients with chronic fatigue are under high risk of fatal automobile accidents.

Mood disorders like mania, bipolar disorder, depression and dysthymia are also frequent among sleep apnea patients. Sleep apnea is also connected to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Because of this relation to cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes, early detection is important. There has also been recent evidence that chronic sleep apnea impairs memory (Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease) due to the chronic reduction in oxygen.


CPAP Machine:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is a common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. A CPAP machine uses a hose and mask or nosepiece to deliver constant and steady air pressure. This only treats the symptoms.

Changes in lifestyle*:

  • Losing weight and/or avoiding alcohol and tobacco may help to improve or lessen your symptoms.

Oral Appliance Therapy*:

  • Oral appliance is a custom-made oral appliance from your dentist that is designed to help shift your jaw forward when you sleep. This jaw position prevents your airways from closing. The appliance fits just like a mouth guard for sports or a night guard for clenching or grinding. It’s more comfortable than a CPAP device.

Upper Airway Surgery*:

  • Surgery may be recommended to achieve proper breathing and oxygen flow.

If you think you have sleep apnea, it is best to consult your physician or dentist. A dentist can screen you and help you obtain a diagnosis of sleep area, as well as help you with a treatment plan that may require a team of experts, such as a general physician, surgeon or sleep specialist.

*These treatments improve your overall health by increasing your ability to breath.

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