Sleep Apnea FAQs

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means the brain and the rest of the body may not get enough oxygen. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage of the airway usually when the soft tissues in the back of the throat collapse during sleep.

Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, even children. Some risk factors for sleep apnea may include: being a male, being overweight, being over the age of 40 and having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women), large tonsils, large tongue and a small jaw bone, family history of sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflex, nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies or sinus problems.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a growing number of health problems including the following: high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, irregular heartbeat and heart attack, diabetes, depression and worsening of ADHD. In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for poor performance in everyday activities such as work performance and may contribute factors involving motor vehicle crashes and academic under achievement in children and adolescents.

Common sleep apnea symptoms include the following:

  • loud snoring
  • occasional waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
  • sleepiness or lack of energy during the day
  • morning headaches
  • restless sleep
  • forgetfulness, mood changes and decreased interest in sex
  • recurrent awakenings or insomnia

If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, talk to your healthcare professional. Your doctor may ask you to have a sleep apnea test. This test may be done in a sleep center or even at home. The recordings are analyzed by a qualified sleep specialist to determine whether or not you have sleep apnea or another type of sleep disorder.

You may be able to treat mild cases of sleep apnea by changing your behaviors such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills, changing sleep positioning to improve breathing, use of a continuous positive airway pressure machine (called a CPAP) which is a treatment in which a mask is worn over the nose and on the mouth while you sleep. This CPAP mask is considered by many experts to be the most effective treatment in sleep apnea. A dental device may also help keep the airway open during sleep.

Oral appliances hold your jaw in a forward position to keep your tongue from obstructing the upper airway to increase the volume of the airway. Oral appliance therapy is an effective treatment of mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea and snoring. An oral appliance may be recommended for patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea who do not tolerate a CPAP machine or a traveling device.

Such oral devices can be specifically designed by dentists with special experience in treating sleep apnea. A sleep study should be completed by your doctor to determine what the best treatment option is. Dr. Price has specialized training in sleep apnea and oral appliance design. The correct appliance should be used because an ill-fitting or poorly designed appliance may further reduce the airway space over the tongue and a change in mandibular positioning which may contribute to an aggravation of respiratory disturbances.