Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleeping condition characterized by abnormal breathing during sleep. Individuals with temporary delays in breathing may have a low supply of oxygen to their brain and other parts of the body and lead to serious health and dental complications. When there is no air circulation due to sleep apnea, you may experience a dry mouth which is a potential risk for bad breath and progression of periodontal gum disease. Also, you could experience other oral health complications like bruxism.

Fortunately for you, sleep apnea is treatable, and you can restore your peaceful sleep. Among the treatment options for sleep apnea is an oral therapy that uses different dental devices. A knowledgeable dentist will use dental appliances that suit your needs to treat the condition. If you experience sleep apnea symptoms, it would be wise to schedule an appointment with your dentist for an assessment. At Washington Dental, we work hard to ensure that patients seeking sleep apnea treatment in Lomita, CA, receive the best possible dental care.

Overview of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder marked by abnormal breathing during sleep. When you suffer from sleep apnea, you could have multiple pauses in your breath when you sleep. Apneas or pauses in breathing are caused by collapses of the airway muscles, excessive body fat, among other factors.

Since sleep apnea lowers the body's oxygen circulation, the condition could cause serious oral health complications like bruxism and bad breath. If you are serious about restoring good oral health by treating sleep apnea, it would be wise to consult a competent dentist. Your dentist will advise you on different treatment options to curb this condition.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three main types of sleep apnea. All three types of sleep apnea can affect your general well-being negatively. Therefore, if you experience signs of this condition, you should make an appointment with your dentist. Since the underlying causes for sleep apnea vary from one type to another, there are significant differences in the symptoms and treatment. The common types of sleep apnea include:

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. It is characterized by recurrent episodes of partial or complete obstruction of the upper airways leading to reduced or absent breathing during sleep. Whether the breathing is partial or complete, a fall in blood oxygen saturation, and a sleep disruption. During sleep, the muscles in your throat relax, allowing your tongue to fall back into the airway and block airflow.

Most people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea may not be aware of the sleeping disturbances even after awakening. A family member or a person with whom you share a room may notice the snoring and choke in your sleep pattern. The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea may be present for many years before you notice the condition. During this time, you could be suffering fatigue and daytime sleepiness which is associated with sleep disturbances.

Once you take a breath, your brain returns to sleep, and the process takes place again. The process of air blockage can occur from a few to hundreds of times depending on the severity of your condition:

  1. Mild obstructive sleep apnea. With mild OSA, you will experience up to fourteen episodes of breathing interruptions in one hour. You may not easily notice a difference in breathing when you suffer mild sleep apnea.
  2. Moderate OSA. Moderate OSA is characterized by fifteen to thirty interruptions in your breath per hour.
  3. Severe OSA. An individual in the late stage of obstructive sleep apnea may experience more than thirty gasps in breath in one hour.

OSA affects up to 10% of Americans, and in most cases, it goes unnoticed. Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by:

  • Loud, disruptive snoring and irregularity could be an obvious sign of obstructive sleep apnea. However, other causes of loud snoring may include age, alcohol consumption, and wrong sleeping postures. Therefore, you cannot assume that one time snoring is a result of this sleeping condition.
  • Frequent breaks in breathing. The obstruction of the airways causes breathing breaks. The cessations in breathing are followed by gasping or choking noises as your breathing system fights the blockage.
  • Excessive sleepiness during the day. When you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, your sleep will often be interrupted depending on the condition's severity. Therefore, it is common to experience daytime sleepiness.
  • Restless sleep. If you suffer obstructive sleep apnea, you could feel restless during your sleep due to constant awakening throughout the night, pulling you out of the much-needed rest.
  • Depression and irritability. Lack of good quality and regular sleep can wreck your mental wellbeing. You may feel short-tempered, and in time you could suffer more severe symptoms of depression.
  • Morning headaches. The impairment of oxygen flow in your body due to breaks in breathing could result in severe headaches when you wake up.

Causes and Risk Factors of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The following factors may be associated with the development of OSA:

  1. Excessive weight. In most cases, your body is directly related to the development of obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea may be caused by the accumulation of fat tissues around the neck, leading to airflow restrictions on the upper respiratory system. Overweight individuals are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea than those with normal body weight.
  2. Adenoids and enlarged tonsils are a significant cause of OSA in children. However, it can also affect adults who did not undergo tonsillectomy when they were younger.
  3. Age. As you age, your muscles begin to lose tone. When the muscles in your neck and throat lose their elasticity, they could collapse and cause blockage of the airways.
  4. Frequent alcohol consumption. Alcohol relaxes all your muscles, and relaxed throat muscles could block your airways, causing obstructive sleep apnea. Individuals who consume alcohol are at an increased risk of developing sleep apnea.
  5. Smoking. Smoke is an irritant to your throat and lungs. The irritation could cause fluid retention and inflammation on the upper airways that can prevent airflow.

Some individuals are genetically predisposed to having a narrow throat. If there is a history of OSA in your family, you may be at a higher risk of developing this condition. If you experience any of the signs of obstructive sleep apnea, you should book an appointment with your dentist.

  1. Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is a condition where your brain temporarily fails to signal the muscles responsible for controlling breathing. Central sleep apnea differentiates from obstructive sleep apnea in that the OSA is a mechanical problem while CSA is a communication problem. Central sleep apnea is less common and can be caused by medical problems associated with the brain stem.

Some of the most common symptoms of central sleep apnea include:

  1. Irregular breathing during your sleep could interrupt your sleep pattern.
  2. Shortness of breath causes you to wake up more often. When the brain fails to signal your breath control muscles, you may experience shortness of breath.
  3. Chronic fatigue. When you fail to sleep effectively during the night, you could experience chronic fatigue and excessive daytime drowsiness.
  4. Difficulty concentrating. When you experience shortness of breath as you sleep, your brain and other parts of your body may not receive enough oxygen. This can make it difficult for you to concentrate.
  5. Snoring. Snoring in central sleep apnea may not be as severe as in obstructive sleep apnea.

Several factors and conditions may be responsible for the development of central sleep apnea. If you have heart failure or other related pulmonary conditions, you may be at risk of developing central sleep apnea. Also, if you are taking medications for brain infection or stroke, you may have this condition.

Some individuals with OSA can develop CSA when undergoing positive airway treatment. If you experience any of the above symptoms of sleep apnea, you should consider consulting your dentist.

  1. Mixed Sleep Apnea

Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of central and obstructive sleep apnea. If you are treating ASA with a CPAP machine, you could develop the symptoms of CSA. Optimal treatment for mixed sleep apnea is not often refined. However, CPAP devices set at the lowest pressure may be used for this condition. If CPAP therapy fails, servo-ventilation devices and BIPAP machines can be used.

Health Risks of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a severe medical condition that can present the following health complications:

  • Heart problems. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels which take place during breathing breaks, can strain your cardiovascular system. Having sleep apnea may increase your risk of developing high blood pressure and other cardiovascular complications.
  • Type 2 diabetes. Sleep apnea increases the risk of developing insulin resistance diabetes.
  • Daytime fatigue. Repeated interruptions during your sleep make it impossible to have restorative sleep. This may make it difficult to concentrate during the day due to daytime fatigue and drowsiness.
  • Metabolic syndrome. This is a disorder that includes abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, and pressure levels.
  • Sleep-deprived partners. Loud snoring can be very irritating and could deprive anyone sleeping next to you of quality sleep.

Dental Complications Caused By Sleep Apnea

Good quality sleep is crucial for your general wellbeing, preventing mouth ulcers and curbing the periodontal disease. The following are some dental complications associated with sleep apnea.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

The TMJ is the link between the upper and the lower jaw on each side of your face. A soft cartilage disc acts as a cushion between the joint bones so the joints can move smoothly. TMJ disorders can cause jaw pain, pain on the head, and locking of the jaws making the movement difficult. The temporomandibular joint disorder is related to sleep apnea. Research has shown that individuals who suffer from sleep apnea are more likely to develop TMJ disorders.

In most cases, the pain and discomfort associated with temporomandibular joint disorders are temporary and can be managed with non-surgical procedures. The signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders may include:

  • Aching pain around your ear.
  • Locking of the joints making it difficult to open your mouth.
  • Difficulty and pain while chewing.
  • Pain and tenderness of the jaw.
  • Clicking or grating sensation when you open your mouth.


Bruxism is the term used to define teeth grinding and clenching of the jaw. Even though teeth grinding can occur at any time, most individuals engage in bruxism subconsciously during sleep. Bruxism has adverse effects on sleep and may cause you to wake up feeling extremely tired.

When our air passages are blocked due to sleep apnea, the body will send out distress signals. The stress hormones travel through the bloodstream, making the jaw muscles tighten and cause friction. Bruxism may occur when sleep apnea and snoring disrupt the upper respiratory airways.

Although you may not know that you grind your teeth during your sleep, your dentist can detect changes in your oral health-related teeth grinding. Some of the injuries and trauma that result from bruxism may include loose or chipped teeth. When left untreated, bruxism can cause severe headaches, jaw pain, and periodontal disease.

If you grind your teeth but do not experience other sleep apnea symptoms, you may be required to wear an oral device to protect your teeth. If you suffer obstructive sleep apnea and bruxism, you can be fitted with a CPAP mask. The mask will clear your respiratory passages and decrease the incidences of teeth grinding.

Mouth Breathing

The normal mode of breathing is through the nose. However, when your nasal airways are blocked in sleep apnea, you may find yourself breathing through the mouth. When you are forced to breathe through the mouth, your mouth could become dry. A dry mouth is an excellent breeding ground for bacteria and the development of plaque. Periodontal gum disease is prevalent in individuals with sleep apnea.

What does a Dentist Do to Treat Sleep Apnea?

If sleep apnea symptoms affect different aspects of your health, it would be wise to make an appointment with your dentist. The dentist may advise on the use of oral appliances designed to keep your throat open. Even though CPAP is more effective, oral appliances are easy to use when you do not want to undergo a more extensive procedure. Some oral appliances are designed to keep your throat open by bringing your jaw forward. Also, the temporomandibular devices prevent your tongue from blocking the throat. This could relieve the snoring associated with obstructive sleep apnea.

A dentist with the knowledge and expertise in oral appliances will assess your situation to ensure that the oral appliances are the best treatment for your condition. If you suffer from sleep apnea symptoms, it would be wise to consult a competent general dentist. Your dentist may recommend different devices that you need to try out before deciding the suitable one for your condition. After fitting the right appliance, you will need to make regular dental visits to reassess your signs and symptoms.

The dentist may also give you a repositioned to realign your bite after the device is removed. After the oral appliance care is completed, you may need to go back to your dentist for retesting to ensure that the appliance performs the recommended function.

Oral appliance therapy can improve the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea such as reducing daytime sleepiness. When the device is installed, your airways will note blocked and you can have a good night's sleep. This increases your energy during the day and improves concentration. Also, oral appliances are a great treatment option for individuals who cannot tolerate CPAP. Unlike other forms of treatment oral appliances are easy to use and you can carry them along when you travel. When you visit your dentist with the symptoms of sleep apnea, the dentist will assess your symptoms and recommend a device to suit your specific needs.

Risks of Oral Appliance Therapy for Sleep Apnea

While oral therapy is an effective treatment for relieving the symptoms of sleep apnea, some risks could arise from the use of the oral devices including:

  • Change in your bite. With prolonged use of mandibular advancement devices, your jaw position may change causing an underbite or overbite. This could be detrimental to your ability to chew food correctly and your general outlook.
  • Temporomandibular pain. Installation of the oral devices involves additional practices that are unfamiliar to you. The new routine could prove difficult to adjust to creating resistance from your body. Sometimes, you may experience jaw and teeth pain while your body adjusts to using the devices.
  • A need for dental appliance replacement. Sometimes, wearing oral devices to treat sleep apnea could mess with your existing dental works. If your teeth shift from their original position and distort your smile, you may have to repeat procedures for realignment.
  • Dry mouth. Oral devices for treating sleep apnea may cause you to have an open mouth through the night. This can reduce the production of saliva and result in a dry mouth. A dry mouth is a good breeding area for bacteria that cause bad breath and advancement of gum disease. Dryness may extend to your throat causing a sore throat.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure

One of the most common treatments for OSA and CSA is the use of continuous positive airway pressure. When using this treatment option, you will be required to wear a CPAP device every time you sleep. The CPAP machines help alleviate the dangerous symptoms of sleep apnea by delivering pressurized air to your nasal region. The pressure on your airways creates a greater opening and helps avoid collapsing the airway.

When the CPAP therapy is successful, you can manage the symptoms of sleep apnea successfully. With proper oxygen flow, you can rest peacefully. CPAP therapy has shown a decrease in cognitive effects of sleep deprivation that results from sleep apnea. Continuous positive airway pressure is one of the best non-surgical treatments for adults suffering from sleep apnea.

Surgical Treatment of Sleep Apnea

Surgery may be the only option when other treatment options for sleep apnea have failed. However, your dentist will try out other options before opting for surgery. Surgical procedures for treating sleep apnea may include:

  • Tissue removal. For this procedure, the specialist will remove the tissues from your mouth and the top of your throat. Also, your tonsils and adenoids may be removed in this procedure. The tissue removal surgery stops the throat structures from vibrating when you sleep. However, the procedure is not as effective, and positive airway pressure in treating obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Jaw repositioning. Your jaw is moved forward to enlarge the space behind your tongue and soft palate for this procedure. This makes breathing easier and prevents snoring.
  • Tissue shrinkage. Another option you can explore to treat sleep apnea is by shrinking the tissues at the back of your throat using radiofrequency ablation. Tissue shrinkage is effective for mild or moderate sleep apnea.
  • Nerve stimulation. Nerve stimulation is a surgical procedure where the dentist inserts a stimulator to control your tongue movement. The increased stimulation helps keep your tongue in position and keep your airway open.
  • Implants. Soft rods made of polyester are implanted onto the soft palate.

Find a General Dentist Near Me

Sleep apnea is one of the most prevalent sleeping disorders. Sleep Disorders can significantly affect different aspects of your health. A good night's sleep is important for feeling refreshed and energized, which may not be achieved if you suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is characterized by loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep, difficulty sleeping, and irritability.

Sleep apnea can cause serious health complications such as metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and dental complications such as teeth grinding. Sleep apnea can be a silent condition since most people may not remember waking up at night.

However, a qualified dentist can help you manage the condition with the help of dental procedures and behavioral modification. If you are worried about your sleep apnea condition, we invite you to book an appointment with Washington, Dental. Call us today at 310-326-5183 if you seek treatment in Lomita, CA, and allow us to treat your sleeping disorder.