Sleep Apnea and How Dentistry Can Help

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)?

Obstructive sleep apnea is the momentary cut-off of breathing when someone is sleeping.

In addition, obstructive sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that occurs in about 25% of men and nearly 10% of women.  Sleep apnea can affect people of all ages, including babies and children and particularly people over the age of 50 and those who are overweight. [1]. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax too much to allow normal breathing. When the muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in, hampering your breathing for 10 seconds or longer. This can lower the level of oxygen in your blood and cause a buildup of carbon dioxide. Your brain senses this impaired breathing and briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief that you don’t remember it. You can awaken with shortness of breath that corrects itself quickly, within one or two deep breaths. You might make a snorting, choking or gasping sound. This pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times or more each hour, all night long. These disruptions impair your ability to reach the deep, restful phases of sleep, and you’ll probably feel sleepy during your waking hours. [2]

What are the Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Symptoms of OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) include excessive daytime sleepiness and others such as:

  • Loud snoring.
  • Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep – which would be reported by another person.
  • Gasping for air during sleep.
  • Awakening with a dry mouth.
  • Morning headache.
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Difficulty paying attention while awake
  • Irritability

Sleep apnea isn’t something to be taken lightly as it can lead to other more serious issues down the line such as high blood pressure or heart problems, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, liver problems, and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, so it’s best to get it under control sooner rather than later.

How Can Dentistry Help?

The first line of treatment for sleep apnea, after undergoing a sleep study, is a CPAP machine, or continuous positive airway pressure. Perfect compliance with CPAP can fall short, as it is expensive to buy your own machine and uncomfortable to wear during sleep. In fact, studies suggest that from one-third to more than half of CPAP patients either stop using their machine or never fill out their prescription. [3]

Alternative treatments for sleep apnea can include treatment for TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder), which can be achieved through use of dental appliances, physiotherapy, massage therapy, or surgery. Symptoms of TMJ include: Pain that can be felt in the face or neck, stiffness in the muscles of the jaw, limited movement of the jaw, clicking or popping jaw sounds, headaches, earaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and tooth pain. Sleep apnea and TMJ are conditions that can develop together and can reinforce one another. About 75% of people with TMJ have sleep breathing disorders like sleep apnea or snoring, and about 52% of sleep apnea sufferers have TMJ.[4] TMJ can put pressure on the jaw joint and contribute to sleep apnea because it narrows the airway.

Another option that can bring relief from sleep apnea are oral devices called oral mandibular advancement devices which work by pushing the tongue and jaw forward, which makes the airway larger and improves airflow. This also reduces the chance that throat tissue will collapse during sleep and narrow the airway when you breathe in. These devices only have to be worn at night and can be fitted for your mouth for optimal comfort.

Other laymen names for these devices include:

  • Sleep apnea mouth guard
  • Snore guard
  • Snoring device
  • Snoring appliance

Simpli Dental offers sleep apnea and snoring dental appliances at both our Regina and Saskatoon offices. There are a wide variety of dental appliances with different costs associated with each one. To obtain a treatment plan, determine if you require a dental appliance or receive an estimate for an oral appliance, book an appointment with a Simpli Dental dentist.


[1] Cleveland Clinic

[2] Mayo Clinic

[3] National Center for Biotechnology Information

[4] Michigan Center for TMJ and Sleep Wellness