Sleep Disordered Breathing: What It Is & How to Treat It


Are you or a loved one experiencing sudden mood swings, loud snoring or tossing and turning throughout the night, or just a lack of energy?

Believe it or not, this could be the result of a nighttime breathing issue called sleep disordered breathing. Even more surprising, this breathing issue can be effectively diagnosed and treated through your dentist office. 

What is sleep disordered breathing?


Sleep disordered breathing, otherwise referred to as sleep apnea, is a medical condition where your breathing stops momentarily while you sleep. This could be happening just a couple of times every night, or in severe cases up to hundreds of times every night.

Generally, sleep apnea happens due to a blockage in your airway. This momentary lapse in breathing causes the oxygen levels in your blood to go down and the CO2 levels go up. This jars you awake for a brief period, which then helps you go back to normal breathing.

Since the amount of time you are “awake” is so short, many patients don’t even realize that they have sleep apnea. And this causes serious problems. Although you’re only awake very briefly, it does affect how good of a night’s rest you are getting in a big way. 

What are the causes of sleep disordered breathing?


It’s said that 26% of people between the ages of 30 and 70 experience sleep apnea. That’s over 1 in every 4 people!

While most patients experience obstructive sleep apnea, there are actually 3 distinct types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: Also known as OSA, this is the most common type of sleep apnea and is caused by a blockage in your airway. This blockage is commonly caused by obesity, a large tongue and tonsils, and your head and neck shape.

  • Central sleep apnea: Less common, central sleep apnea is caused by your brain being unable to send proper signals to your muscles to control your breathing.

  • Complex sleep apnea: Even less common, complex sleep apnea is when you experience both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. 

Sleep apnea risk factors

While people at any age can experience sleep disordered breathing (including children), there are a couple of risk factors that are particularly common:

  • Men experience obstructive sleep apnea more than women

  • Obesity

  • Over 40 years of age 

  • Those with large tonsils and a small jaw

  • Smoking and drinking 

  • Family history of sleep apnea

How does it affect my life?


Sleep apnea can actually have a profound effect on your quality of life if not treated. Most of these problems can be traced back to the utter lack of sleep that is the result of sleep apnea. 

Generally, this results in a horrible low-sleep cycle that’s hard to break out of. Drowsiness, irritability, inability to focus, and often even insomnia. This makes your sleep apnea even more pronounced and can lead to serious problems in your personal and professional life.

It can also have adverse effects on your health. This includes:

  • High blood pressure as a result of the stress from repeated breathing interruptions 

  • Higher risk of heart disease and stroke, which is caused by less oxygen in your blood and being constantly woken up

  • Weight gain and a less active lifestyle

Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Drowsiness

  • Irritability and mood swings 

  • Hormonal imbalance, often leading to weight gaines

  • Severe headaches upon waking and throughout the day 

  • Poor performance at work

  • Accidents caused by poor reaction times

  • Mental health issues

A dental solution for obstructive sleep apnea

While central sleep apnea requires a trip to a neurologist, obstructive sleep apnea can actually be treated by a dentist.

In fact, since dentists are working with you to improve the health inside your mouth, they are likely your best shot at adequately treating obstructive sleep apnea. They also can be on the lookout for signs that you are experiencing obstructive sleep apnea. 

Some common dental problems we see from obstructive sleep apnea:

  • Teeth grinding: As part of being startled awake, it’s thought that the muscle activity in your jaw increases and leads to tooth clenching and grinding. Studies also show that your jaw might clamp down when being startled awake.

  • Jaw, tongue, and throat issues: Some signs that dentists will notice include small jaw bones, a large neck, deviated septum, redness in your throat, or large tongue and tonsils.

How Pickens Family Dentistry treats sleep disordered breathing


At Pickens Family Dentistry, we take obstructive sleep apnea very seriously. If you believe you are experiencing sleep apnea, we’ll work with you to determine just what is going on and get you on the path towards restful sleep.

The first step toward treatment is our at-home sleep apnea test. While in the past you might have needed to be tested in an office under the watchful eye of an expensive specialist, our at-home test allows you to test yourself at home. It is much less expensive, and is still accurate and reviewed by a Board Certified Sleep Specialist. It screens for all types of sleeping disorders and is a quick and easy way to see just what is going on. 

Once we determine if you are experiencing obstructive sleep apnea, we’ll work on a treatment plan consisting of the specific treatment that’s right for you.

Treatment options 

Treating sleep apnea requires a holistic and comprehensive approach. There are 2 common types of treatment depending on the severity and your personal comfort level.

  • CPAP machine: Considered the gold standard for sleep apnea treatment, CPAP devices are worn over your mouth while you sleep to provide air to your throat.

  • Oral appliances: A less intrusive treatment option, oral appliances are custom mouthpieces work while sleeping that help mitigate the obstruction and promote breathing. A more comfortable option. 

Speak with Dr. Pickens today to get started on a restful nights sleep

We make treating sleep disordered breathing easy. Contact us today to get started treating your sleep apnea holistically. 

Amy Pickens