Sleep Apnea Questions and Answers
By Mina Levi, DDS, 10/16/2014

There are many reasons that sleep can be disturbed, but one reason is a risk to overall health. Sleep Apnea is a condition that many people don’t realize they have and prevents the body from getting enough oxygen. This can be very detrimental to your health. Many people have questions about sleep apnea, and so Dentist San Francisco is sharing an interview with two sleep disorder specialists to answer some of those questions:

Sleep Apnea Dentist San Francisco

What is snoring?
Snoring sounds are caused by airway tissues vibrating in response to narrowing of the airway during sleep breathing. These sounds are rarely troublesome to the snorer but may be to the bed partner.

Why is snoring considered a sign of a serious medical problem?
Snoring may be a sign of sleep apnea, which results in poor sleep quality and can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness. Being fatigued is a major cause of work-related accidents, car crashes and loss of production.

What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. In fact, patients diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can’t breathe despite effort several times an hour for 10 seconds or more – sometimes, hundreds of times per night – preventing the brain and the rest of the body from getting sufficient oxygen.

How is sleep apnea categorized?
Sleep apnea is categorized in one of the following forms:
1.       Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): is the more common of the two forms of sleep apnea. Generally, OSA is caused by a blockage of the airway, when the soft tissue and/or tongue collapse during sleep.
2.       Central Sleep Apnea: As a result of instability in the respiratory control center, the brain does not signal the muscles to breathe, despite an open airway.

Who is at risk for Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Anyone at any age can have obstructive sleep apnea. Common risk factors for sleep apnea include:
1.       Large neck size
2.       Large tonsils, a large tongue or a small jaw bone
3.       High-vaulted upper arches
4.       A family history of sleep apnea
5.       Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
6.       People whose bed partner has observed choking, gasping or loud snoring
7.       Nasal obstruction (deviated septum, allergies or sinus problems)
8.       Overweight or obese
9.       History of Hypertension, Chronic Heart Failure or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What are the common signs and symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
1.       Loud snoring
2.       Choking or gasping during sleep
3.       Fighting sleepiness during the day (even at work or while driving)
4.       Morning headaches
5.       Memory or learning problems
6.       Feeling irritable
7.       Inability to concentrate
8.       Mood swings, personality changes, feelings of depression
9.       Dry throat when waking up
10.   Frequent night-time urination

What causes Sleep Apnea?
Under healthy airway conditions during sleep, muscles keep the throat open and tongue clear of the airway so that oxygen flows into the lungs. In Obstructive Sleep Apnea, however, the throat briefly collapses or the tongue blocks the airway causing a complete blockage of airflow. Along with those pauses in breathing, the oxygen level in blood may drop significantly.

What is the Sleep Apnea prevalence?
Over 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. An estimated 12 million Americans remain undiagnosed. Over 50% of all apnea cases are diagnosed in people aged 40 or over.

How is Sleep Apnea diagnosed?
Sleep apnea is diagnosed by a properly trained sleep physician through the use of testing equipment designed to measure sleep breathing patterns. Testing may be performed at a sleep laboratory via a Polysomnogram or at the patient’s home using FDA-cleared ambulatory sleep testing equipment.

What is in Home Sleep Testing (HST)?
A home sleep test is a simple-to-perform diagnostic procedure that patients can take in the comfort of their own home. While sleeping, the home sleep test device monitors the patient’s sleep patterns to include any pauses in their breathing. These FDA-cleared devices are designed to provide data for physicians to diagnose sleep breathing patterns.

What are the benefits of a Home Sleep Test (HST)?
1.       The patient self-administers the home sleep test, and is able to spend the night in his/her own bed in familiar surroundings.
2.       Home sleep testing can be especially advantageous to the home-bound elderly who require specialized care such as a nurse or family member spending the night, expensive transportation costs, etc.
3.       HST is also beneficial for those with trouble arranging time out of their scheduled to spend the night in a lab.
4.       The typical cost of a home sleep test is only a fraction of the cost of an in-lab sleep study, and yields effective results in the diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

How do dentists treat patients with sleep apnea?
Dentists may treat patients that suffer from sleep apnea through the use of FDA-cleared oral appliances. In fact, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine promotes the use of oral appliances as a viable option for patients that suffer from mild-to-moderate obstructive sleep apnea or severe patients when the patient cannot tolerate the use of a CPAP machine. Oral appliance therapy involves the selection, fitting and use of a specially designed oral appliance that maintains an open, unobstructed airway in the throat when worn during sleep.

What is the Dentist’s role in identifying patients with Sleep Apnea?
Dentists may detect the less evident symptoms of sleep apnea through a candid conversation with their patients during an exam that addresses the patient’s concerns and dental health details. A dentist may suspect a patient suffers from sleep apnea if the patient complains about lethargy, morning headaches, or dry mouth (typically caused by open mouth breathing during sleep or heavy snoring). If the patient shows enough risk of suffering from a sleeping disorder, dentists may prescribe a sleep study for the patient to rule out the condition. It should be noted that dentists are often the first professional to become aware of a potential problem since they are usually in contact with their patients more frequently than physicians.
Source: Drs. Justin A Fu, MD, FAASM and Payam Araii, DMD (Ez Sleep Pillow Talk)

For more information on sleep apnea, visit Dentist San Francisco Mina Levi, DDS on the web at or give us a call at (415) 513-5066.