Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing throughout the night. Oftentimes, people don’t know they have sleep apnea. One of the most common sleep apnea symptoms is waking up after a full night’s sleep and still feeling tired.

Most Common Sleep Apnea Symptoms

  • Snoring
  • Wake up feeling tired after a full night’s sleep
  • Stop breathing while you’re sleeping
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Gasping for air while you’re sleeping
  • Insomnia- difficulty staying asleep throughout the night
  • Hypersomnia- feeling excessively tired all day
  • Low attention span, difficulty concentrating
  • Moodiness and irritability

There are many symptoms you may not notice, such as snoring or gasping for the breath in the middle of the night, but your bed partner will. Sleep alone? Invite a good friend to spend the night or set up a camera to record you while you sleep.

cartoon drawing man snoring due to sleep apnea

Why Do Dentists Often Diagnose Sleep Apnea?

Your dentist may be the first person to identify sleep apnea for a few key reasons. For one, it can cause dry mouth which leads to cavities and other dental issues. Plus, patients usually complain to their dentist if they are experiencing dry mouth.

A good dentist should ask a series of questions to identify the cause of dry mouth like: are you taking any medications? Do you feel tired throughout the day? Or do you wake up with headaches on a frequent basis? If you feel tired and have regular AM headaches, it may indicate sleep apnea.

A positive diagnosis is gathered through a sleep study, although patients may return to their dentist for treatment.

3 Types of Sleep Apnea

The causes of sleep apnea vary based upon the type of sleep apnea you are diagnosed with.  There are three main types of sleep apnea.

1. Central sleep apnea

This occurs when your brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles in charge of breathing. This will cause you to stop breathing for short periods of time throughout the night. This may cause you to quickly awaken, gasping for breath, as well as struggle to stay asleep and fall back to sleep.

2. Obstructive sleep apnea

This is the most common form of sleep apnea. It occurs when your throat muscles relax when you sleep. The muscles at the back of your throat are responsible for supporting the soft palate – which is the triangular dangler you see at the back of your throat – along with your tonsils, tongue, and the side walls of the throat.

These muscles are not supposed to relax when you sleep, and if they do, it causes airways to narrow or close altogether. As a result, it is impossible to take in enough air, thus lowering your blood oxygen levels. Your brain responds by waking you up so that your airways reopen.

This awakening is so quick that most people don’t even remember it, but it still tremendously impacts your quality of sleep. Hence, why you wake up feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep.

Patients commonly snort, choke or gasp as they briefly waken. This can occur again and again, as many as thirty times per hour. There’s no way to enter the deepest stage of sleep, REM sleep, if this is occurring to you.

3. Complex sleep apnea syndrome (treatment-emergent central sleep apnea)

This is the condition that exists when you have both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.

What Factors Make You More Likely to Develop Sleep Apnea Symptoms?

People are not usually born with sleep apnea, instead it’s a condition that develops overtime and is more common in older populations, although it can impact anyone. There are several factors that put you at an increased risk for developing sleep apnea.

  • Obesity

While skinny people can absolutely develop sleep apnea, it is more common in patients who are overweight. That’s because fat deposits around your upper airway can lead to obstructions in breathing.

  • Thick neck

It might sound silly, but having a thicker neck makes you more prone to sleep apnea because it correlates with having narrower airways.

  • Narrow airways

A narrow throat or airway can be inherited, it may also be caused by blockages such as tonsils or adenoids – especially common in children.

  • Men

Men are three times as likely to develop sleep apnea compared to women.

  • Age

The older you are, the greater the risk.

  • Nasal congestion

There are many reasons why you may struggle breathing through your nose, from allergies to anatomical issues. No matter the cause, if you regularly suffer from congestion you are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.

  • Genetics

If your family has a history with sleep apnea, your risk for developing the condition increases.

  • Alcohol and drug use

Using alcohol or sedatives before bed can cause the muscles in your throat to relax.

  • Heart disorders

Congestive heart failure increases your risk for developing central sleep apnea.

  • History of Stroke

If you suffered a stroke, you are more likely to develop central sleep apnea or treatment-emergent central sleep apnea.

  • Smoking

Smokers are three times more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea because smoking increases inflammation and fluid retention in your upper airway.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, quitting smoking or switching up your sleeping position may be sufficient.

Another option is to wear a dental mouth piece that is similar to a sport mouthguard. Oral appliances for sleep apnea include Jaw Advancing Device (JAD) or a Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD). These devices are commonly used to treat sleep apnea and help restore your quality of sleep by repositioning the jaw and tongue to improve airflow. By moving the jaw forward, the size of your upper airway increases, allowing air to freely pass through and preventing your throat from over-relaxing and closing up.

These easy to wear attachments are custom fit using a mold of your mouth.  While you can purchase boil-and-bite varieties online, nothing beats the comfort and effectiveness of a custom made mouth piece for sleep apnea.

sleep apnea oral appliance treatment

For more severe cases, patients may need to use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) system. This device is worn during sleep and delivers air through a mask that applies pressure to keep airways open. Only in the most severe cases is surgery necessary.

What Happens if You Don’t Treat Sleep Apnea?

Leaving sleep apnea untreated can cause a variety of issues, including the risk of death. Without treatment sleep apnea can lead to:

  • Fatigue
  • Heart problems and high blood pressure
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Issues if you are put under anesthesia to undergo surgery
  • Liver disease

Learn more about sleep apnea and how your dentist at Macleod Trail Dental can help restore your quality of sleep.




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calgary dentist jen silver

Dr. Jennifer Silver is one of the top dental surgeons practicing in Calgary, Alberta using an innovative multi-disciplinary approach to helping her patients. She believes in offering expert advice and make recommendations to patients just as she would to a family member. Dr. Silver collaborates with a large network of specialists and taps into their expertise to provide holistic care.

Dr. Jennifer Silver has earned a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Melbourne, Australia. Her academic qualifications include deans honours list, an oral surgery award and best research project. Before attaining this degree, she graduated with honors from Dalhousie University’s Dental Hygiene Program and worked in the sphere of dentistry for 10 years. Dr. Silver is currently helping patients with dental issues such as TMJ pain and sleep apnea in addition to dentistry. She is keenly interested in constantly upgrading her skills and hopes to gain additional training in oral surgery in the future.