Snoring affects millions of people of all ages, both male and female. Treatment can depend on the seriousness of the underlying problem, and may range from simple lifestyle changes like losing weight and sleeping in a different position, to surgical procedures on the nasal passage, tongue or soft palate. The majority of snorers can find relief with a trip to the dentist.
Common Causes of Snoring
Approximately 30-50% of Americans snore at some point in their life. Snoring is caused by the vibrations of your soft and/or hard tissue palates; these vibrations occur because of increasingly narrow air passages. When air passes through these passages, a “flapping” sound occurs because the tissue is soft in nature. Surgery (to alleviate the snoring) is not always successful, however, because the sound may not originate from the soft palate; the snoring sometimes originates from tissues in the upper airway.
- Alcohol, in particular before bed
- Health problems
- Obstructed nasal passages – deviated septum, stuffy nose or clogged sinuses
- Poor muscle tone of the tongue
- Daytime fatigue
- Sleep apnea
Snoring isn’t just an annoying sound: it can signal a larger problem, like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). People with this chronic disorder experience pauses in their breathing while they sleep, caused by a blockage or collapse of their airway. The Institute of Medicine reports that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. Eighty percent of the moderate and severe OSA cases remain undiagnosed. In most cases, the blockage of air is so great that no air can get through, causing repeated awakenings throughout the night. The disorder constantly reduces the oxygenation of the blood, further stressing the sleeper’s body. No oxygen at night is no good! Obstructive sleep apnea can contribute or lead to many other conditions:
- Irregular heartbeats
- Increase the risk of high blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Memory loss
- Morning headaches
- Decreased sex drive
Daytime drowsiness alone costs the economy $150 billion in lost productivity and workplace accidents, and another $48 billion in medical expenses related to auto accidents involving drowsy drivers. It is estimated that nearly 1 in 5 car accidents causing serious injury are associated with Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS).
The public and health community are generally aware of the increasing obesity of Americans, a phenomenon related to the increase of OSA. Few people outside the sleep medicine community, however are aware that too little good sleep appears to be as much a factor in obesity as too much food and too little exercise. For more information: https://sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea-information-clinicians/
Dr. Bryan Keropian calls “Cancer, AIDS and OSA the most dangerous and destructive diseases on Earth.” It is important to be diagnosed by a medical professional if you experience any sleep-related symptoms. In addition, there are patients with OSA who do not snore.
The Dental Connection
Dentists often work together with physicians to address sleep apnea and sleep-related breathing disorders through a treatment known as oral appliance therapy. Here’s how it typically works:
- The patient undergoes a sleep study at a sleep center accredited by the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine or has a home sleep test (HST) ordered for them.
- If the patient is diagnosed with mild or moderate sleep apnea, the physician may recommend an oral appliance to be worn during sleep. This device is similar to an orthodontic retainer or sports mouth guard. It prevents the airway from closing by supporting the jaw in a forward position.
- The dentist monitors the patient’s progress and provides adjustments and long-term follow-up care.
In most mild or moderate cases of sleep apnea, or even simply for a case of snoring, oral appliance therapy can provide effective relief. Because the device is custom made for the contours of the patient’s mouth, it can be comfortable and easy to wear.
Beware of Limitations
Many drug stores and sports equipment retailers sell moldable mouth guards that can be softened in boiling water and shaped to one’s mouth. However, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine cautions that unsupervised use of these over-the-counter devices can lead to dental damage and jaw problems. They do not recommended the devices as treatment for snoring and sleep apnea.
Talk to your dentist to learn more about oral appliance therapy’s potential to help you or the snorer in your life.
Are You at Risk?
If you feel you may be at risk of sleep apnea, please make an appointment with our office for a professional evaluation. You can also answer this questionnaire to do a simple home assessment. Please note, this form is just for informational purposes only and should not replace a comprehensive evaluation.