The rasping sound of loud, persistent snoring may be good for a laugh or two in a comedy—but if you sleep within earshot of someone who suffers from this condition, you know that it’s really no joke. While almost everybody snores from time to time, it is estimated that some 24 percent of women and 40 percent of men are habitual snorers. And we’re willing to bet that most of their bed partners have trouble sleeping due to the unmistakable, aggravating noise.
But aggravation isn’t the only problem related to snoring: According to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, about half of all habitual snorers have some form of sleep apnea. This potentially serious disorder often causes fatigue and daytime drowsiness, and can lead to depression, memory loss, accidents, and other problems. If you or your partner are troubled by persistent, loud snoring, don’t be surprised if your physician refers you to your dentist to see if an oral appliance could help.
Why a dentist? Because snoring (and sleep apnea) originates in the mouth, the area dentists specialize in. All sleep-related breathing disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), stem from a blockage or reduction of airflow to the lungs during sleep. This can happen when tissues at the back to the throat—including the soft palate, tonsils and tongue—partially collapse, blocking the airway. Snoring occurs when a reduced flow of air causes these soft tissues to vibrate, producing the familiar (if undesirable) sound. In more serious cases of OSA, reduced oxygen flow can cause hundreds of “micro-arousals” each night, during which sufferers may gasp for breath. This prevents them from getting restful and necessary sleep.
How Your Dentist Can Help
If your dentist suspects that you might have OSA, he or she likely will work with a sleep medicine physician in a “team” approach. You may be evaluated over a period of weeks before being given a diagnosis. In some cases, treatment with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is recommended. However, a significant number of patients find that wearing an oral appliance at night is far easier to tolerate than a CPAP mask. Other treatment alternatives include various types of surgery, but it’s best to give non-invasive options a chance to work before pursuing an irreversible treatment.
What You Can Do
There are some things you can try on your own to alleviate the problem of persistent snoring. Making positive lifestyle changes can improve not only your sleep patterns, but your health in general. For example, smoking, alcohol consumption, and the use of sedatives are known to increase the likelihood of snoring; being overweight also makes you more prone to snore. Getting moderate exercise and controlling these factors may help you sleep better. You can also try sleeping on your side instead of your back; simply changing sleep positions has been shown to produce improvement in some patients.
But if these aren’t enough to make a significant difference, it may be time to see your dentist or a sleep medicine physician for an exam, and ask whether oral appliance therapy could be right for you. After all, a good night’s sleep isn’t a luxury—it’s an essential part of good health. Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.