What is Sleep Apnea?


Did you know that more than 30 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea?  As many as 1 in 5 people can potentially have sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea is a common medical condition in which the breathing cycle is interrupted several times during sleep. This means that the person with sleep apnea stops breathing for few seconds several times during sleep. Insufficient or interrupted breathing can lead to low level of oxygen in the body and this can be life-threatening.

What are the types of sleep apnea?


  1. Obstructive sleep apnea– This is the most common type of sleep apnea. The breathing stops due to an obstruction in the airway by soft tissues of the throat that collapse when throat muscles relax.
  2. Central sleep apnea– In this type, the brain misses sending signals to the muscles responsible for breathing.

Is sleep apnea dangerous?

Sleep Apnea can lead to tiredness, daytime sleepiness, inability to concentrate, and hosts of medical and psychological problems. Researchers feels that it is linked to:

  • Diabetes and metabolic disease
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Bruxism and Grinding teeth

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

You should visit your physician if you find the following symptoms-

  • Sore or dry throat when you get up
  • Your partner informs you that you snore loudly
  • Feeling of tiredness or lethargy throughout the day.
  • Feeling sleepy even after a good seven hour-sleep.
  • Restlessness or irritability

As the symptoms are not very defined, the condition remains unnoticed. If you suspect that you have sleep apnea then consult your physician for confirmation.

Am I at a risk of developing sleep apnea?

You may be at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea if you are-

  • Obese or overweight
  • Having a nasal obstruction caused by a deviated nasal septum or allergic condition
  • Having a neck circumference of more than 16 inches.
  • Someone with a strong family history.
  • Having a misaligned jaw or a large tongue.

Can my dentist tell me if I have sleep apnea or not?

As the symptoms are mild, you may miss sleep apnea most of the times. Your dentist will be the first one (in most cases) to figure out this problem by your dental condition. Tooth grinding characterized by abnormally worn out teeth is the first symptom that your dentist identifies during the oral examination. A small jaw or a large tongue are other symptoms that suggest sleep apnea. Once your dentist detects the condition, you will be sent to your physician for further examination and diagnostic tests.

What is at home life style modification for sleep apnea?

Mild forms of sleep apnea can be treated by introducing lifestyle changes like,

  • Regular physical exercise like a brisk walk
  • Breathing exercises
  • Avoidance of alcohol consumption
  • Quit smoking
  • Try sleeping on sides than back

These tips may not be helpful if one has a moderate to severe form of sleep apnea. Therapies like CPAP, oral appliances and surgical approach are the other treatment options.

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Breathing)

CPAP help you breathe pressurized air through a mask while you sleep. The air pressure by CPAP is slightly higher than the normal outside pressure and this ensures that the airways remain open, preventing snoring and sleep apnea. Even though CPAP is highly effective, it may not be the patient’s favourite treatment option as it is uncomfortable and patient cooperation is not as high as oral appliance.

Oral appliances

Dr. Oh and Dr. Estafan at Madison Avenue Dentists can fabricate a comfortable oral appliance that can help sleep apnea patients to open airways. The oral appliances that bring the lower jaw forward prevent the tongue from blocking the throat. Additionally, such night guards can protect your teeth from getting worn out due to grinding or clenching. The good news is that most of these appliances are covered by medical insurance and these are far more comfortable than CPAP.  Oral Appliance may not be as effective as CPAP but certainly many more patients cooperate with the treatment.

If you think you have sleep apnea, contact us for a consultation with our dentists Dr. Stella Oh and Dr. Ash Estafan to learn more.