Benton & Nelson DDS

What is sleep apnea and how can my dentist help?

April 20, 2021
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Posted By: Blake Nelson

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition where a person periodically stops breathing during the night, leading to decreased oxygen levels and less restful sleep.  The cause of sleep apnea can be obstructive (when the person stops breathing because the airway is blocked by soft tissues such as the tongue, tonsils, soft palate, etc.) or central (when the person's brain stops signaling for the body to breathe during sleep).  

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can only be diagnosed by your physician.  Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea can include:

  • Daytime fatigue or drowsiness
  • Feeling tired, even after a full night's sleep
  • Loud snoring or gasping for breath during the night (usually noticed by your bed partner)
  • Grinding teeth 
  • Waking with headache or dry mouth

​​If you have any of these signs or symptoms, speak to your physician who can screen you for sleep apnea and, if appropriate, refer you to have a sleep study to diagnose your condition.

Why is it important to treat sleep apnea?

Untreated sleep apnea is associated with heart disease (such as heart attack and stroke), hypertension (high blood pressure), type II diabetes, and liver problems.  

How can my dentist help treat my sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can be treated with healthy lifestyle changes (such as diet and exercise), CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), and sleep apnea oral appliances.  If your physician determines that you are a candidate for an oral sleep appliance, schedule a consultation with Dr. Nelson to learn more! 

What is an oral sleep apnea appliance? 

An oral sleep apnea appliance is an oral appliance, similar to a retainer, that is worn during sleep.  Oral sleep apnea appliances prevent the soft tissues from blocking the airway by holding the lower jaw slightly forward to improve breathing during sleep.  Many patients prefer an oral appliance over a CPAP machine because it is smaller and more discrete.  

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