At one point or another, just about everyone has had to deal with the unpleasant sounds of snoring. Maybe the culprit was an open-mouthed uncle sprawled out on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner or (just your luck) an exhausted camper whose chainsaw inhales managed to reach your not-so-secluded camp site through the darkness. Maybe you deal with it every day because it’s your spouse who snores, or maybe it’s you!
If you have a snoring problem, you might be dealing with more than unhappy roomies and a bad reputation; you might be losing quality sleep. While most chronic snorers are aware of the adverse effects of sleep loss, many do not realize that they may have a more serious condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and that a qualified dentist can treat both conditions.
Snoring is the audible vibration that can occur when soft tissues in the mouth and throat partially obstruct one’s airway and disrupt breathing. It can be caused by certain sleep positions, excess soft tissue, the natural relaxation of muscles or other factors that allow the uvula, epiglottis or tongue to fall back into the throat during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea has similar causes, usually accompanied by snoring, but is characterized by stop-and-go breathing due to complete obstruction of the airway. To an observer, the snoring sounds stop for up to several seconds before the sleeper gasps for air and resumes breathing.
The cessation of breathing can cause a person to wake up hundreds of time each night, but they may not even be aware of the disturbances. How could someone be unaware of being woken up so many times? While the degree of the disturbance is strong enough to interrupt deep sleep, the duration of wakefulness is not always long enough for one to remember it. Many long-time sufferers of OSA are simply accustomed to feeling tired during the day. Perhaps you’ve met one of these types at the movies? They take frequent naps! In any case, such disruption in sleep can have severe health implications. The body doesn’t have a chance to fully recharge at night, oxygen levels in the blood can drop and the brain might not get all the oxygen it needs to retain memory and perform well. OSA is also linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
The best treatment options for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea vary based on individual needs and the severity of the sleep-disordered breathing. Weight loss, quitting smoking or changes in medications or sleep position can be enough to ease certain cases, while others may need to be treated surgically with soft tissue hardening or removal, managed with CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) or corrected with the use of a dental appliance.
CPAP machines work very effectively to force air into the throat and maintain its flow to the lungs, but they are undesirable to many for a variety of reasons. Some users and their spouses feel that CPAP machines make a noise just as disturbing as snoring, many find the masks uncomfortable, and the devices can be cumbersome to clean and too large for convenient travel use.
A dental appliance is a light-weight, convenient alternative to surgery and CPAP treatment that opens the airway by shifting the lower jaw and attached soft tissue forward during sleep. The slight repositioning of the lower jaw is temporary, working only when the device (similar to a mouth guard) is being worn. The devices are custom made and adjustable, and patients find them to be comfortable, discreet, easy to clean and convenient for travel use.
If you suspect you might have OSA, talk to your physician before seeing your dentist. While a dentist with the proper qualifications can make a custom dental appliance for common snoring any time, treating obstructive sleep apnea requires prior diagnosis by a physician. This may require a sleep study, but once diagnosed, many medical insurance plans offer coverage for dental appliances.
If you’re feeling drowsy right now, let’s hope it’s due to nothing more than an article gone on too long. But on a serious note, if you think that you or someone you love is losing sleep from breathing difficulties, don’t ignore it. There is a great deal of information available on the causes and effects of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, and your health care providers can help you to determine the best course of action for treatment. Everyone is entitled to a good night’s rest.