Sleep: it’s essential to our well-being, and good sleep has been proven to help improve memory and focus as well as reduce the risk of chronic illness. Unfortunately there are plenty of things that keep us from getting the right amount of quality sleep each night. Beyond stress, work, and kids, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can severely disrupt sleep patterns and cause other potential health problems, but the good news is it can be fixed.

The Basics on Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea occurs when the tongue gets sucked toward the back of the throat during sleep, blocking airflow and causing you to literally stop breathing. As the oxygen levels in your brain deplete, your body will wake you up just enough to clear away the obstruction so you can continue breathing. If you have someone sleeping in the room with you they may hear silence (when you stop breathing) followed by a loud gasp (when you begin breathing again) periodically throughout the night.

Since the body partially wakes up to begin breathing again, you are never able to reach the deepest part of sleep, REM, or rapid eye movement. The decreased oxygenation in the brain from irregular breathing can lead to significant cardiovascular problems, and people who suffer from this condition are often tired, sluggish and depressed, and have difficulty focusing and concentrating throughout the day, even if they are in bed for eight hours or more.


A less severe version of sleep apnea, called upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), causes similar symptoms but may not require the same interventions. This condition happens when the air passageways narrows and the muscles and diaphragm have to work harder to get air through to the lungs. Like sleep apnea, the sleeper will eventually awaken as airflow becomes too restricted to provide enough air to the lungs, and he or she will not reach the most important and restful stages of sleep enough during the night. Left untreated, UARS often develops into sleep apnea.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

The first step in treating OSA or UARS is to recognize the problem and get a proper diagnosis. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons Drs. Bryan and Steven Christensen can provide a consultation and outline a treatment plan for you. These treatment plans often begin with an analysis of your entire maxillofacial region using a skull x-ray to determine the level of obstruction and anaso-pharyngeal exam. If these tests do not provide the necessary information, the doctors may recommend an overnight sleep study.

Treating These Conditions

The most common non-surgical treatment option for sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP machine, which delivers forced oxygen through a mask all night. Surgical options are also available, and include:

  • A uvulo-palato-pharyngo-plasty (UPPP) performed in the back of the soft palate and throat
  • A radio-frequency probe under light sedation to tighten the soft palate

For more complex cases, patients may require surgical interventions that reposition the upper or lower jaw to increase the size of the airway (orthognathic surgery). This procedure is performed in a hospital operation room and requires a one to two day hospital stay.

Get Treatment Today

Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can have devastating long-term consequences if it goes untreated. If you’re suffering from the symptoms of OSA, call the Utah Oral Surgery & Dental Implant Center at 801-269-1110 to get diagnosed and discuss all your options.