Can my dentist turn snoring into sleeping beauty?

If putting the pillow over your head hasn't put an end to your misery over your partner's snoring, there's hope. Or if you're tired of your snoring being the cause of someone else's sleeping issues, it's time to take action.

It's possible that relief from snoring or sleep apnea could come from your dentist. Your family dental center may be able to alleviate your snoring or sleep apnea if your dentist has the proper training and expertise.

According to Dr. Gary Conger, a dentist with First Choice Dental, snoring is no laughing matter. "While loud, disruptive snoring is at best a social problem that may strain relationships, for many men, women and even children, loud habitual snoring may signal a potentially life-threatening disorder. This disorder is called obstructive sleep apnea, known as OSA," says Conger.

Snoring is not necessarily sleep apnea. It is important to distinguish between snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Many people snore. It's estimated that approximately 30% to 50% of the US population snore at one time or another, some significantly. Everyone has heard stories of men and women whose snoring can be heard rooms away from where they are sleeping.

Dr. Conger says, "Serious snoring can cause several problems in relationships, as well as in your sleeping, leaving you tired the next day. Snoring does not always equal OSA. Sometimes it is only a social inconvenience. Still, even a social inconvenience can require treatment, and there are several options that properly trained dentists can offer to chronic snorers."

According to the American Dental Association, "obstructive sleep apnea" is a disorder in which breathing stops for short periods of time during sleep. In a literature review article published in The Journal of the American Dental Association, researchers say that a periodic lack of oxygen in the blood can have damaging affects throughout the body. Sleep-disordered breathing like sleep apnea may have negative affects on learning and memory functions, or other health impacts.

During sleep apnea, blood oxygen levels decrease. This sudden drop in oxygen levels causes increased blood pressure and stress on the cardiovascular system. About 50% of the people who have obstructive sleep apnea develop hypertension. Over time, this increases the risk of stroke and heart failure. In fact, people with more than 20 episodes of apnea per sleep hour have a higher risk of death from abnormal heart rhythms, strokes, and heart attacks. For those who have pre-existing heart disease, recurrent episodes of decreased blood oxygen can cause sudden death.

Snoring and sleep apnea can begin or worsen as we age. According to research by clinical dentists at University of Southern California (USC), the risk of sleep apnea increases greatly according to age and body mass index. Also, it's much more common in men than in women. As many as 1 out of every six people over the age of 50 has at least mild sleep apnea. And it's estimated that almost 75 percent of severe apnea cases are undiagnosed.

What can be done to prevent sleep apnea from affecting your sleep and your health?
Talk to your dentist or your doctor about your sleep habits. Be sure to include details about both daytime sleepiness and your snoring, if these are issues for you. You may need to ask your sleeping partner for insights. Have they noticed that you snore loudly with telltale pauses? This can be an indicator of sleep apnea. It is audible evidence of the tongue or soft palate obstructing the airway.

If your dentist or doctor helps you learn that you have sleep apnea, several non-medical options could help your snoring or sleep apnea. These include:

  • weight loss of as little as 10 pounds
  • changing sleeping positions
  • avoiding alcohol, caffeine and heavy meals close to bedtime
  • avoiding sedatives which can relax throat muscles and worsen snoring

If medical treatment is required, your dentist can recommend treatment options for your snoring or sleep apnea. Dr. Conger recommends, "If you think you have symptoms of sleep apnea, you should discuss this with your dentist and physician, and they can recommend the appropriate treatment plan for you."

Learn more about sleep apnea symptoms and treatment options. Or request an appointment to learn whether sleep apnea therapy from your dentist might bring you relief.