If you've been diagnosed with sleep apnea, you may have been offered one of several treatment options. Some apnea patients may benefit from a nightly breathing machine, while others can treat their apnea by making minor diet or other lifestyle changes. However, there is one unexpected type of doctor who may be able to assist your treatment -- your dentist.

Read on to learn more about how several minor dental procedures provide sleep apnea treatment or even cure your sleep apnea:

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a type of respiratory disorder that can cause you to stop breathing during your sleep. Although each episode lasts only a second or two, it's often enough to wake you up from a sound sleep. Usually, you are not even aware of your frequent night waking, but may find yourself overly tired during the day or suffer from morning headaches, minor memory loss, or irritability.

Anyone can suffer from sleep apnea, but it's often more common in those who tend to snore loudly, who have a deviated septum, who have acid reflux, or who are overweight.

It's important not to let sleep apnea go untreated -- not only can being constantly tired affect your job performance and home life, but the physical effects of this constant waking can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

What can your dentist do to help your sleep apnea?

Often, the root cause of sleep apnea is excess tissue in the back of your throat that relaxes during your sleep, temporarily blocking your airway. There are a few ways your dentist can help keep this tissue in its place and let you stay asleep.

  • Nighttime mouth guard

If your sleep apnea is fairly mild, caused by only a small amount of excess tissue, a nightly mouth guard that helps keep your airway open may be enough to treat your apnea. This mouthguard is specially fitted and thin enough that it shouldn't disturb your sleep.

If this treatment doesn't work, surgery may provide a cure.

  • Oral surgery

If you have a severe case of sleep apnea, or if you've tried other treatments without success, your dental surgeon may be able to remove certain parts of your oral anatomy that are contributing to your apnea. In some cases, all that is required is the removal of your tonsils and adenoids, while in other cases your surgeon may need to trim excess tissue on the back of your throat. Because this surgery is highly individualized, depending on the physical cause of your apnea, it boasts a very high success rate.