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Can Genetics Play a Role in Your Risk for Sleep Apnea?

December 2, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — bghdental @ 9:58 am
Blue DNA spiral floating over scientist's hand

Does one of your parents snore at night? Aside from being annoying for their spouse, snoring is also a common symptom of sleep apnea. It’s also a sign you may want to talk to your dentist about sleep apnea treatment. Recent research has shown that the genes you inherit from your parents may influence your risk of sleep apnea. Keep reading to learn more about the connection between sleep apnea and genetics.  

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common disorder affecting over 20 million people, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. Individuals with sleep apnea experience repeated breathing interruptions while they sleep. These interruptions can last up to 10 seconds each time and occur dozens or even hundreds of times a night. The most common form, known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax and block the airway.

How Do Genetics Contribute to Sleep Apnea?

Scientists believe that up to 40% of people who experience sleep apnea also have family members affected by the condition. Here are several ways your genetics could increase your risk of sleep apnea.

Facial Anatomy

Some children look more like their mom or dad, while others look like an even mix of both. Facial features like the shape and size of your nose and the placement of your jaw are inherited traits. Your facial anatomy can also affect the width of your airway; smaller airways, of course, can more easily become blocked.

Neural Connections

A study was recently published in the journal Current Genomics exploring sleep apnea and neural connections. In it, researchers found that genetics may affect the muscles and neural signals involved in breathing. More research is needed to draw clear conclusions. However, this scientific article is yet another example of how genes could potentially increase your risk of sleep apnea.  


Have you stepped on the scale lately? Body weight may also influence your risk of sleep apnea. Overweight individuals may develop fat deposits on their necks, which can block the upper airway during sleep. However, losing just 10% of body weight can have a big effect on sleep apnea symptoms. For many people, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help them lose weight and decrease the risk of sleep apnea.

How Your Dentist Can Help

If you are worried about the impact of sleep apnea on your health, talk to your dentist. Depending on your situation, they may recommend oral appliance therapy. An oral appliance is a custom mouthpiece that you wear while you sleep. The small device repositions the jaw to prevent breathing interruptions. Wearing an oral appliance consistently at night can dramatically improve your quality of sleep.

Your genetics don’t have to determine your destiny! Talk to your dentist today to learn if you could benefit from oral appliance therapy.

About the Author

Dr. Jenna Bagley has over 20 years of experience helping patients overcome sleep apnea. The proud Tufts University graduate is trained to provide customized sleep apnea therapy using the Vivos system. To learn more about the role genetics play in your risk of sleep apnea, visit the BGH Dental website or call 413-772-0842.

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