In a fast-paced world where the demands of daily life often leave us exhausted, the importance of a good night's sleep cannot be overstated. Sleep is not merely a restorative activity; it is the cornerstone of our overall health and well-being.

However, for millions of individuals, a condition known as sleep apnea stands as a formidable barrier to achieving restful nights and vibrant days. If you have been suffering from sleep apnea, we invite you to contact us at Washington Dental. Our team of dentists in Carson is here to help you manage and treat this sleep disorder.

The Meaning of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder whose main characteristic is repeated breathing interruptions during sleep. These interruptions, known as apneas, can be brief but recurrent, often leading to a disrupted sleep cycle.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can have serious health consequences. Therefore, early diagnosis and appropriate management, often involving lifestyle changes, devices like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, or dental appliances, are essential to improving sleep quality and overall well-being.

Types of Sleep Apnea

Below, we list the primary types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) — This accounts for the majority of sleep apnea cases. OSA occurs when the back throat muscles relax excessively when sleeping, and therefore temporarily blocking the upper airway. This blockage results in reduced or interrupted airflow, often causing loud snoring and periods of gasping or choking as the individual attempts to resume breathing. The brain detects the decrease in oxygen levels and briefly wakes the person to restore normal breathing, usually without their awareness. This cycle can repeat many times at night, disrupting the sleep cycle and leading to daytime sleepiness and other health issues.
  • Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) — Central sleep apnea is less common than OSA and involves a different mechanism. Here, the brain's respiratory control centers fail to send appropriate signals to breathing muscles. This failure leads to pauses in breathing without any physical obstruction in the airway. CSA often occurs in individuals with certain medical conditions, including heart failure, and can be more challenging to treat than OSA.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome (Treatment-emergent central sleep apnea) — Also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, this is a relatively rare condition where individuals initially diagnosed with OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) develop CSA after receiving treatment with PAP therapy, such as a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. The exact cause of this transition is not fully understood but may be related to changes in respiratory control patterns.

Note that some individuals may exhibit features of both OSA and CSA, which is normally called mixed or complex sleep apnea. Proper diagnosis and treatment are essential for managing sleep apnea, regardless of its type.

Sleep Apnea Prevalence

Sleep apnea is a surprisingly common sleep disorder affecting millions worldwide. Its prevalence can vary based on geographic regions and populations.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the more prevalent form of sleep apnea. It is estimated to affect approximately 22% of adults, with a higher prevalence in men than women. However, it often goes undiagnosed, and the actual number of affected individuals may be higher.

Central sleep apnea is less common, making up a smaller portion of sleep apnea cases. Its prevalence varies but is generally lower than that of OSA.

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can affect people of all ages, including children, but certain factors heighten the risk of getting this sleep disorder. Common risk factors include the following:

  • Excess weight — Excess fat deposits around the neck can lead to airway obstruction, making it likely to develop OSA.
  • Neck circumference — Individuals with a thicker neck may have a narrower airway, which can result in OSA.
  • Age — Sleep apnea is more common in older adults.
  • Gender — Men are more likely than women to develop sleep apnea, although women can also be affected, especially after menopause.
  • Family history — A sleep apnea family history can heighten the risk of developing this disorder.
  • Smoking — Smokers are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea due to fluid retention and inflammation in upper airway systems.
  • Alcohol, sedative, or tranquilizer use — The use of substances that relax the throat muscles can contribute to airway obstruction.
  • Nasal congestion — People with difficulty breathing through their noses, whether due to anatomical issues or allergies, are at an increased risk.
  • Medical conditions — Certain conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disorders, diabetes, and hormonal disorders, are associated with a higher sleep apnea risk.
  • Ethnicity — Some ethnic groups, including African Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders, have a higher prevalence of sleep apnea.

Understanding these risk factors can help individuals identify those at higher risk, leading to earlier diagnosis and intervention. It is essential to be aware of these factors and seek medical evaluation if you suspect sleep apnea, as early detection and treatment can significantly improve the quality of life and reduce associated health risks.

Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea 

Sleep apnea often manifests through a range of symptoms, which can vary in severity among individuals. Some of the most common symptoms include the following:

  • Loud snoring — While not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, loud and persistent snoring is a hallmark symptom of the disorder, particularly in obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
  • Breathing pauses — Witnessed breathing pauses during sleep, often accompanied by choking or gasping sounds, are a significant indicator.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness — People with sleep apnea often feel exhausted during the day, regardless of how much they slept at night.
  • Morning headaches — Frequent morning headaches, often described as a dull, throbbing sensation, can result from the oxygen deprivation caused by sleep apnea.
  • Difficulty concentrating — Cognitive impairment, memory problems, and difficulty concentrating are common complaints among those with untreated sleep apnea.
  • Irritability and mood changes — Sleep apnea can lead to irritability, mood swings, and even depression in some individuals.
  • Frequent nighttime urination — Nocturia (frequent nighttime urination) is a common symptom of sleep apnea and can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Decreased libido — Sleep apnea may lead to a reduced sex drive and sexual dysfunction in both men and women.
  • Dry mouth and sore throat — Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat can be due to mouth breathing during sleep, which is common in sleep apnea.

Health Implications of Untreated Sleep Apnea

Untreated sleep apnea can have severe consequences for one's health and well-being. Some of the potential health implications include the following:

  • Cardiovascular problems — Sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and irregular heart rhythms.
  • Type 2 diabetes — There is a link between sleep apnea and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight gain — Sleep apnea can disrupt the body's metabolism and appetite regulation, leading to weight gain or difficulty in losing weight.
  • Daytime fatigue — Chronic daytime sleepiness can impair cognitive function and increase the risk of accidents, especially while driving or operating heavy machinery.
  • Mental health issues — Sleep apnea is linked to mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
  • Complications in surgery and medications — Individuals with sleep apnea may face complications when undergoing surgery or taking certain medications that depress the respiratory system.
  • Reduced quality of life — Sleep apnea can diminish overall quality of life due to chronic fatigue, decreased alertness, and impaired concentration.

It is crucial to recognize and address sleep apnea promptly to mitigate these health risks and improve both sleep quality and overall well-being. If you or someone you know exhibits symptoms of sleep apnea, seeking medical evaluation and appropriate treatment is essential for a healthier and more fulfilling life.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

Diagnosing sleep apnea involves a comprehensive evaluation that typically includes the following steps:

  • Medical history — The first step in diagnosing sleep apnea is a thorough medical history assessment. The healthcare provider will ask about the patient's sleep patterns, symptoms (such as snoring, gasping for air, or daytime sleepiness), medical history, and any relevant family history of sleep disorders.
  • Physical examination — A physical examination may be performed to identify any physical factors that could contribute to sleep apnea, such as obesity, enlarged tonsils, or a narrow airway.
  • Sleep questionnaires — Patients may be asked to fill out questionnaires like the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, which helps assess daytime sleepiness and the likelihood of having sleep apnea.
  • Polysomnography (sleep study) — The gold standard for diagnosing sleep apnea is a polysomnography, often conducted in a sleep center. During this overnight study, various parameters are monitored, including brain activity, eye movements, muscle activity, heart rate and rhythm, breathing patterns, and blood oxygen levels.
  • Home Sleep Apnea Testing (HSAT) — A simplified sleep study can sometimes be done at home using portable monitoring devices. This is often recommended for individuals with a high likelihood of moderate to severe sleep apnea but without other significant health issues.
  • Oximetry — This test measures blood oxygen levels overnight using a pulse oximeter. While it is less comprehensive than polysomnography, it can provide useful data, especially when other diagnostic options are limited.

After the sleep study, patients will have a follow-up consultation with a sleep specialist to discuss the results. If sleep apnea is diagnosed, the severity and treatment options will be discussed.

Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

Treatment for sleep apnea aims to alleviate symptoms, improve sleep quality, and reduce associated health risks. The choice of treatment depends on the type and severity of sleep apnea, as well as individual patient preferences and needs.

Here are some common treatment options:

  • Lifestyle modifications
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
  • Oral appliances
  • Surgery

Here is a brief discussion of each of these treatment options:

Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle modifications can be a valuable and often essential component of the treatment plan for sleep apnea, particularly for mild to moderate cases. These changes aim to reduce risk factors and improve the overall quality of sleep.

Here are some key lifestyle modifications that can help manage sleep apnea:

  • Weight management — Excess weight, especially around the neck, can increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) as it may lead to a narrowing of the airway. Losing weight through a combination of a balanced diet and regular exercise can significantly reduce the severity of OSA in overweight or obese individuals.
  • Positional therapy — For some individuals, sleep apnea occurs predominantly when sleeping in certain positions, such as on their back. Encouraging individuals to sleep on their side may alleviate or reduce the severity of their symptoms. Special pillows or positional devices can help maintain this sleeping position.
  • Avoiding alcohol and sedatives — Alcohol and sedatives relax the muscles in the throat, increasing the likelihood of airway collapse in individuals with OSA. Reducing or eliminating the consumption of alcohol and sedative medications, especially in the evening, can be beneficial.
  • Quitting smoking — Smoking can contribute to inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway, making it more susceptible to collapse during sleep. Quitting smoking can improve airway health and decrease sleep apnea symptoms.
  • Establishing a sleep routine — Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, can help regulate the body's internal clock and improve sleep quality. Creating a bedtime routine can also signal the body that it is time to sleep.
  • Elevating the head of the bed — Raising the head of the bed by a few inches using foam wedges or an adjustable bed frame can help prevent airway collapse in some individuals, reducing the severity of OSA.
  • Allergy and nasal congestion management — Addressing allergies and nasal congestion through medication or lifestyle changes can improve airflow and reduce the likelihood of obstructive sleep apnea events.

Note that lifestyle modifications alone may not be sufficient for treating severe sleep apnea but can be highly effective when combined with other treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, dental appliances, or surgery. Individuals with sleep apnea should work closely with healthcare professionals to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to their specific needs and severity of the condition.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is one of the most effective and widely used treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and, to some extent, for central sleep apnea (CSA). It involves the use of a special device to deliver a continuous stream of pressurized air into the airway, which helps keep it open during sleep.

A CPAP machine consists of several components, including a motor, a hose, and a mask or nasal pillows. The motor generates a steady airflow at a prescribed pressure, which is determined based on a sleep study and the individual's specific needs. The hose connects the motor to the mask or nasal pillows, which the individual wears during sleep.

When the individual uses the CPAP machine, the pressurized air from the motor is delivered through the hose and into the airway through the mask or nasal pillows. This continuous air stream acts as a pneumatic splint, preventing the collapse of the throat tissues and maintaining an open airway.

Successful CPAP therapy relies on the individual's commitment to consistent use throughout the night. Some people may find it challenging to adapt to using a CPAP machine at first, but with time and support, adherence rates improve.

CPAP settings may need to be adjusted over time based on individual needs and feedback. This is typically done under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

There are variations of CPAP machines, such as bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) and automatic positive airway pressure (APAP or AutoPAP). These machines provide different pressure levels during inhalation and exhalation or adjust the pressure automatically based on the individual's breathing patterns. They may be recommended for individuals with difficulty tolerating constant pressure or needing more customized therapy.

CPAP therapy is a highly effective and well-established treatment option for sleep apnea, especially obstructive sleep apnea. When used consistently and appropriately, it can significantly improve sleep quality, alleviate symptoms, and reduce the risk of associated health complications.

Oral Appliances

Oral appliances, also known as mandibular advancement devices (MADs) or mandibular repositioning devices (MRDs), are a viable treatment option for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and, in some cases, for individuals with severe OSA who cannot tolerate continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. These devices are designed to improve airflow and reduce sleep apnea symptoms by repositioning the lower jaw and tongue during sleep.

Oral appliances are custom-fitted devices made of plastic or acrylic. They resemble sports mouthguards or dental splints and are worn in the mouth during sleep.

The primary function of oral appliances is to advance the lower jaw (mandible) and, consequently, the tongue forward. By doing so, they help to create more space at the back of the throat, preventing the collapse of soft tissues that can lead to airway obstruction.

The repositioned jaw and tongue help to keep the airway open, allowing for improved airflow and reducing the number of apnea and hypopnea events (breathing pauses) during sleep. By reducing the frequency of apnea and hypopnea events, oral appliances can improve sleep quality and reduce daytime sleepiness.

Oral appliances are comfortable and easy to wear, and they do not require electricity or a power source. They are also compact and suitable for travel.

Moreover, they are custom-made to fit the individual's mouth comfortably and securely. Regular follow-ups with a dentist or sleep specialist can ensure proper fit and adjustment.

However, the effectiveness of oral appliances can vary from person to person. They may not be as effective as CPAP therapy in severe cases of OSA.

Some individuals may experience side effects of oral appliances, such as excessive salivation, dry mouth, jaw discomfort, or tooth movement. These issues can often be addressed with adjustments to the appliance.

Note that proper cleaning and maintenance of the oral appliance are essential to ensure its longevity and effectiveness. Oral appliances may not be recommended for individuals with certain dental or jaw issues. A thorough evaluation by a qualified dentist is necessary to determine suitability.


Surgery is a treatment option for sleep apnea that is typically considered when other treatments, such as lifestyle modifications, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, and oral appliances, have not been effective or are unsuitable for the individual's specific condition. Surgical intervention for sleep apnea aims to address the anatomical factors contributing to airway obstruction during sleep.

Below, we explore common surgical options for sleep apnea:

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) — This is one of the most common surgical procedures for treating obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It involves the removal of excess tissue from the throat, including the uvula (the small, hanging structure at the back of the throat) and part of the soft palate. In some cases, the tonsils and adenoids may also be removed. UPPP widens the upper airway and reduces the risk of obstruction.
  • Genioglossus Advancement (GA) — In this procedure, a small piece of bone from the lower jaw (genioglossus) is repositioned forward. This helps to increase the tension and space at the back of the throat, preventing collapse during sleep.
  • Maxillomandibular Advancement (MMA) — MMA is a more extensive procedure that repositions both the upper and lower jaws forward. By advancing both jaws, the tongue and soft tissues are also moved forward, creating a larger airway space.
  • Inspire therapy — Inspire therapy is a relatively new surgical approach for OSA that involves the implantation of a small device in the chest. This device stimulates the hypoglossal nerve, which controls tongue movement. When activated during sleep, it helps prevent airway collapse by moving the tongue and soft tissues forward.
  • Nasal surgery — In some cases, surgical procedures to correct structural issues in the nasal passages, such as deviated septum repair or turbinate reduction, may be performed to improve nasal airflow and reduce the need for mouth breathing during sleep.

Find a Carson Dentist Near Me

If you or a loved one have been silently struggling with sleepless nights, persistent fatigue, or other telltale signs of sleep apnea, it is time to take action. We at Washington Dental in Carson, CA invite you to take the first step towards restful nights and enhanced well-being.

Contact our dental practice today for a consultation and discover how we can guide you on the path to a brighter, more revitalized tomorrow. Your sleep matters, and we are here to make it better. Call us at 310-217-1507.