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How Sleep Apnea Can Affect Your Long-Term Health

Submitted by Michael R. Cortese, D.M.D. on Fri 07/22/2016 - 09:00

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can affect your health in a variety of ways and, when left untreated, can be potentially life threatening. “Obstructive” refers to an obstruction of the oxygen through the airway during sleep, which prevents the oxygen traveling to the brain and vital organs. The lack of oxygen during sleep causes a person to continually wake up in order to resume breathing. It also raises a person’s risk of developing serious physical and psychological issues.

Dr. Michael Cortese is a prosthodontist in Princeton, New Jersey, which is the only type of dental specialist that focuses on the whole mouth. He works with medical physicians and board certified sleep physicians to provide comprehensive treatment for any issues relating to the mouth, including occlusion and airway (breathing) problems. Dr. Cortese believes it is important to educate his patients about the possible dangers of sleep apnea.

High Blood Pressure

Sleep apnea is a risk factor for high blood pressure (a.k.a., hypertension). Lack of oxygen to the brain and vital organs stresses the body, causing hormones to go into overdrive and boost blood pressure. A blocked airway lowers the level of oxygen in the blood, compounding the problem.

Heart Disease

Individuals with sleep apnea are more likely to have heart problems (including recurrent heart attacks and abnormal heartbeats) than normal sleepers. The stress caused by lack of oxygen, continually waking up and the sudden drop in blood oxygen levels puts a strain on the cardiovascular system.

Type 2 Diabetes

There is a strong link between sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes.


Another consequence of sleep disordered breathing is that it causes the body to release ghrelin, known as the “hunger hormone.” A surge of ghrelin, coupled with constant fatigue, leads to overeating, poor dietary choices and eventually obesity, which comes with its own set of health problems.

Risk of Motor Vehicle Accidents

People with sleep apnea tend to wake up sometimes hundreds of times per night and have chronic drowsiness, which compromises alertness and other cognitive processes. Therefore, the risk of getting into a motor vehicle or workplace accident is heightened.  In fact, people with sleep apnea are approximately five times more likely to get into a car accident than normal sleepers.

Mental Health Conditions

A lack of restorative sleep can adversely affect both the body and mind. Sleep apnea can lead to or exacerbate conditions like anxiety, depression and panic disorder. Mood and cognitive functions (such as memory and concentration) are severely impaired by poor sleep.

Learn More about Sleep Apnea Treatment

Dr. Cortese and our team screen all new patients for “sleep obstructed breathing” (or OSA) before any dental reconstruction begins so that we are measuring their amount of bruxism (a common side effect of OSA). This screening promotes long lasting results and ensures that any treatment provided does not worsen preexisting sleep disordered breathing, if present.

By detecting and treating sleep apnea, you can lower your risk of developing the health conditions mentioned in this post. To learn more about how Dr. Cortese treats sleep apnea with oral appliances, please call (609) 552-0800 or email us today.