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.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
• Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The more
common of the two forms of apnea is caused
by a blockage of the airway, usually when the
soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses
• Central sleep apnea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not
blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to
breathe, due to instability in the respiratory control
Am I at Risk for Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, even
children. Risk factors for sleep apnea include:
• Being male
• Being overweight
• Being over age 40
• Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men
and 16 inches or greater in women)
• Having large tonsils, a large tongue, or a small jaw
• Having a family history of sleep apnea
• Gastroesophageal reflux or GERD
• Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies
or sinus problems
What Are the Effects of Sleep Apnea?
If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a growing
number of health problems, including:
• High blood pressure
• Heart failure, irregular heart beats, and heart attacks
• Worsening of ADHD
In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible
for poor performance in everyday activities, such as at
work and school, motor vehicle crashes, and academic
underachievement in children and adolescents.
Sleep Apnea Treatments
Treating Sleep Apnea at Home
You may be able to treat mild cases of sleep apnea by
changing your behavior. For example:
• Losing weight
• Avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills
• Changing sleep positions to improve breathing
• Stopping smoking (Smoking can increase the
swelling in the upper airway, which may worsen both
snoring and apnea.
• Avoiding sleeping on your back
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
Continuous positive airway pressure—also called
CPAP—is a treatment in which a mask is worn over the
nose and/or mouth while you sleep. The mask is hooked
up to a machine that delivers a continuous flow of air into
the nose. This air flow helps keep the airways open so that
breathing is regular. CPAP is considered by many experts
to be the most effective treatment for sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea and Dental Devices
Dental devices can be made that help keep the airway
open during sleep. Such devices can be specifically
designed by dentists with special expertise in treating
Surgery for Sleep Apnea
If you have a deviated nasal septum, enlarged tonsils,
or a small lower jaw with an overbite causing the throat
to be too narrow, surgery may be needed to correct sleep
apnea. The most commonly performed types of surgery
for sleep apnea include:
• Nasal surgery: Correction of nasal problems such as
a deviated septum.
• Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): A procedure
that removes soft tissue on the back of the throat
and palate, increasing the width of the airway at the
opening of throat.
• Mandibular maxillar advancement surgery:
Surgery to correct certain facial problems or throat
obstructions that contribute to sleep apnea.
Other Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
There are minimally invasive office procedures that
reduce and stiffen the soft tissue of the soft palate.
While these procedures have been effective in treating
snoring, their effectiveness in treating sleep apnea in the
long term isn’t known.