When the muscles in the back of the throat relax during sleep, the tongue can fall back into the airway, blocking airflow. When the airflow is blocked, and causes loud snoring, sleep apnea, or pauses in breathing. Sleep apnea is a condition that affects approximately 18 million Americans.

How does Airflow Affect Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea can cause a person to awaken from sleep several times a night. Certain factors can cause or worsen sleep apnea, including:

  • Lack of muscle tone in the back of the throat
  • Excess or bulky tissues in the throat can block the airflow
  • Large tonsils
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Sleeping on the back
  • Certain medications
  • Age
  • Breathing through your mouth rather than your nose

What are the Different Types of Sleep Apnea?

There are several types of sleep apnea, such as:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airflow is blocked and breathing stops as a result. This occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax and cause the tongue to fall backward, blocking the airway.

Complex Sleep Apnea

Complex sleep apnea is less common than OSA, but its effects can be even more significant. It is caused by a physical blockage in the airflow, often the soft tissue in the back of the mouth or tongue. While CPAP and oral appliances can keep the airway open, this type requires other treatments, such as surgery or oral devices.

Mixed Sleep Apnea

Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. While obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airflow is partially blocked, central sleep apnea occurs when the nerves that control your breathing — called the respiratory drive — are impaired. Mixed sleep apnea is also sometimes called complex sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea syndrome.

What are the Different Ways to Treat this Condition?

There are a variety of treatments available depending on the severity of the condition, such as:

CPAP Therapy

The most common treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP therapy. CPAP therapy involves wearing a mask over the nose and mouth at night that supplies continuous air pressure. This air pressure keeps the airway open throughout the night.


OAT is an abbreviation for Oral Appliance Therapy and refers to a special type of custom-made dental mouthpiece that treats obstructive sleep apnea.

OAT works by providing structural support for the mouth and jaw, repositioning the jaw and tongue forward, opening the airway, and allowing patients to breathe more easily.

BiPAP Therapy

BiPAP stands for “bilevel positive airway pressure.” This therapy works by delivering air at a higher pressure when you breathe in and lower pressure when you breathe out. It’s used to keep your airway open. This therapy is delivered through a mask that you wear while you sleep. The mask connects to a tube that carries pressurized oxygen through a mask that you wear while you sleep.

We may recommend bilevel positive airway pressure therapy (BiPAP) if you have obstructive sleep apnea. The treatment can also be helpful for people who have COPD or other breathing disorders.

APAP Therapy

APAP machines or automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) machines keep patients comfortable during sleep by automatically adjusting the pressure throughout the night. APAP stands for automatic positive airway pressure, and these machines are designed to deliver pressure directly to the patient’s airway. This pressure keeps the airway from collapsing, which allows the patient to breathe normally throughout the night.

Call us at (262) 886-9440 to schedule an appointment with our dentist at our office located at 5440 Spring St., Racine, WI 53406. We will be happy to guide you further.