Essential Dental Care puts a great deal of focus on helping people who suffer from sleep apnea and snoring (upper airway resistance) because these can be serious matters, even life threatening. Today, with new knowledge and technology, the medical profession is becoming aware of dentistry’s contributions in helping in the management of sleep apnea and snoring. Many physicians are referring patients to dentists knowledgeable in treating this problem. In fact, dental appliances are now recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as the first choice for treatment of these conditions. Dental procedures are non-invasive and are kept at a minimum expense to you, and many medical insurance plans cover the procedures.
Snoring occurs when there is a partial obstruction to the free flow of air through the mouth and/or nose. The unpleasant and often annoying sound associated with snoring occurs in a sleeping individual when loose structures in the throat, like the uvula (the skin tissue that hangs down in the back of the throat) and soft palate, vibrate as air passes over them during breathing. Efforts to force air through the narrowed passageway contribute to the sound of snoring.
Snoring can get worse when the muscles in the back of the throat are too relaxed either from drugs that induce sleep or alcohol consumption. Snoring can also be caused by a large uvula and soft palate, nasal congestion, a deviated septum or other obstructions in the nasal and pharyngeal airways. Other anatomical indications are proportionately smaller jaw and/or overbite, and/or a thick neck. In children, large tonsils and adenoids can be the cause of snoring. Pregnant women snore because of a narrowing of the airway and increased weight.
Primary snoring (snoring not caused by apnea) itself is not life threatening and does not cause chronic fatigue in the sleeper. Snoring can, however, be serious both socially and medically.Socially, it can cause fatigue and extreme annoyance in other household members, as well as sleepless nights for a bed partner. This may lead to isolation of a bed partner and can even disrupt a marriage. It is estimated that as many as 40 percent of adults snore, and the majority of snorers are men over forty.
Medically, snoring can be the precursor of obstructive sleep apnea which has been linked to heart failure, high blood pressure and stroke. In its own right, snoring has also been linked to Type II Diabetes. Sleep apnea usually interrupts loud snoring with a period of silence in which no air passes into the lungs. Eventually, the lack of oxygen and the increase in carbon dioxide will awaken you, forcing the airway to open with a loud gasp.
In children, snoring may increase the risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. If your child snores, speak to your pediatrician about the problem. Nose and throat problems as well as obesity may be the cause. Treating these conditions could help your child sleep better at night and help your child’s mental and physical development to stay on track.
To prevent or lessen snoring, try this:
- Lose weight if you are overweight – being overweight is the most likely cause of snoring. Any weight loss will have positive effects.
- Sleep on your side, not on your back.
- See a physician if you have chronic nasal congestion or obstruction.
- Avoid drinking alcohol before you go to bed – alcohol and sedatives can relax the muscles in the back of the throat and lead to snoring. In addition, they can increase the duration of apneic events by dulling your brain’s activity that signals you to awaken and restart to breathe.
If losing weight and changing sleep position don’t help, your physician or dentist may suggest:
- Surgery to remove excess tissue in the back of the throat.
- Laser surgery to remove some excess tissue from the uvula and soft palate.
- Somnoplasty – a radio frequency signal used to reduce volume of tissues in the soft palate or tongue.
- Strips implanted in the soft palate to stiffen it.
- CPAP – this is positive air pressure applied through a pressurized mask over the nose.
- Oral appliance therapy – Dental appliances are specially constructed appliances much like a sports guard or some orthodontic appliances that will either hold the tongue forward or advance the lower jaw forward to open the airway in the back of your throat.