Almost half the population has some experience with snoring or sleep apnea. It is so widespread that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates about 40% of adult males, 24% of adult women and between 10% and 12% of children experience it.
The loud characteristic sound of snoring is produced when the back of your throat vibrates as air flows over it. This sound can be extremely annoying and disturbing to a sleep partner or anyone else within earshot.
There are consequences of snoring for the sufferer as well and your dentist is well placed to assist you if your oral health is to blame. Even though your dentist cannot diagnose sleep apnea, he or she can pick up the symptoms of snoring so that you can consult your doctor about an official diagnosis.
Is there a difference between snoring and sleep apnea?
In snoring, the airway is only partially obstructed. Obstructed sleep apnoea is more serious than snoring because the airway is completely closed off and the person can stop breathing for up to ten seconds at a time, or even longer. This is easily picked up because the snoring follows a pattern. The snorer will make the loud snoring sounds, followed by silence. This is then followed by gasping or choking as the person starts to breathe again. Obstructed sleep apnea has more serious consequences. Snoring (the noise) is often an indicator of obstructed sleep apnea.
How serious is sleep apnea?
The condition can range from mild where it only causes minor sleep disturbances to more serious where the consequences are more far-reaching. Day-time drowsiness, memory lapses, and headaches are just some of the effects of sleep apnea. Sleep disturbances are often reported by the snorer’s sleep partner, as well.
What causes snoring?
- People who have extra tissue at the back of the throat are more prone to making this snoring noise because airflow into the throat causes the tissue there to vibrate. Obesity, enlarged tonsils and pregnancy are just some of the conditions that can cause snoring. There is also a genetic predisposition to snoring.
- Nasal congestion due to allergies or a cold/flu can prevent you from breathing easily through the mouth causing snoring.
- There are some nasal deformities like a deviated septum or nasal polyps that may cause it as well.
- Medicines like muscle relaxants and alcohol can cause the throat and tongue muscles to relax making them more susceptible to vibrating as air flows over them.
- The muscles in the throat also relax over time so the normal aging process can also cause snoring.
What are the signs and symptoms?
- People who snore often grind their teeth as well. Your dentist will pick up the signs by the excessive wear on the teeth, receding gums or by the signs of inflammation in the mouth. The pressure on the teeth by clenching your jaw may also cause cracks on the tooth surfaces which make you more susceptible to more cavities.
- Poor quality of sleep is often a waving red flag for sleep apnea. When the back of the mouth is obstructed, air cannot flow into the lungs. This makes the person gasp for air during sleep causing them to wake up repeatedly. Interrupted sleep leads to fatigue. Long-term effects of snoring have been associated with medical conditions like elevated blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and even heart disease.
- A dry mouth or a sore throat when you wake up.
- Morning headaches due to fatigue.
- Daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
How to decrease snoring
- If you’re carrying extra weight, make some positive changes to your lifestyle to decrease your weight. Begin by eating only healthy foods and control your portion size. It will be a good idea to increase your exercise. Reaching your goal weight may be the key to decreasing the extra tissue at the back of your throat.
- If you suspect your allergies, see your doctor for treatment. Once the nasal congestion and swelling are controlled, the snoring may cease completely.
- Stop smoking.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
- If you think your muscle relaxants are causing the snoring, consult your doctor for a possible alternative.
- Change your sleeping position. If you sleep on your side, your tongue won’t fall into the back of the throat causing obstruction.
- A dental appliance can be worn during sleep. This keeps the jaw and tongue in a position where airflow is not obstructed.
- More severe cases of sleep apnea require a doctor’s help. Options include surgery to correct the obstruction or using a device called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) system.
Dental devices and how they work
- These special mouth guards are often designed by dentists to hold the jaw and tongue in a specific position so that there is no airway obstruction. The jaw is gently held slightly forward, and the tongue is held down so that it doesn’t fall back into the throat and block airflow into the body. Any other soft oral tissue is also prevented from obstructing the airway.
- You may also come across mouthguards being referred to as mandibular advancement devices.
- Initially, these devices may be uncomfortable to wear but it is worthwhile to persevere because the advantages are greater.
- Some users complain of pain in the jaw or teeth.
- Users also complain of extra saliva production when wearing the device. This is normal and saliva production normalizes after the user has become accustomed to the device.
- Most of these unpleasant effects are temporary and disappear after some time.
- You may require follow-up visits to the dentist for minor adjustments which can improve the fit and the comfort level.
Mouth guards can be specially made and fitted by your dentist to ensure a proper fit to your individual mouth. Although you may be able to find commercially available mouthguards, it is recommended by some regulatory bodies, like the FDA, that you consult your dentist or doctor before using any dental device for snoring. This will ensure that you are not self-diagnosing sleep apnea and possibly overlooking any related serious medical condition.