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What is sleep apnea?

Apnea is an interruption or cessation of breathing. For the 2 to 4 percent of middle-aged adults affected by sleep apnea, it is not uncommon for them to stop breathing up to 70 times in an hour. These episodes can last from 10 to 30 seconds. Breathing resumes with a loud snort or gasp. Episodes of sleep apnea deprive a person of oxygen and thorough rest and can cause extreme daytime drowsiness.

Most people who suffer from sleep apnea also snore. Snoring actually is the sound of the vibration of the soft palate and the adjoining structures of the throat. It is caused by narrowing and thickening of the upper airway tissues. And when a person sleeps, the soft tissue at the back of the throat, the muscles in the airway and the tongue all relax, letting the tongue fall back into the airway.

Your dentist, in consultation with your doctor, may be able to custom-fit an oral appliance that helps keep the airway open. If you have a problem with snoring or restless sleep, talk with your dentist about solutions.

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