Snoring is to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) as thunder is to lightning. They may, but not always, appear together. One may be just an annoyance, but the other may be the precursor to serious trouble. The pathology of snoring is the same as for OSA, but not all people who snore have sleep apnea (although it is the most noticeable symptom).
Snoring is associated with an increased risk of hypertension as well as an increased risk of both cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease. The percentage that a person snores has been directly related to the prevalence of coronary disease. In other words, the more one snores, the greater the risk for stroke.
With OSA, muscles of the soft palate at the base of the tongue and the uvula (the small, conical, fleshy tissue hanging from the soft palate) relax and sag, obstructing the airway, making breathing labored and noisy. Collapse of the airway walls can block breathing entirely.
When breathing periodically stops, a listener hears the snoring broken by pauses. As pressure to breathe builds, muscles of the diaphragm work harder. Sleep is then temporarily interrupted, sometimes only for seconds. This, in turn, activates throat muscles and “un-corks” the airway.
A listener hears deep gasping as breathing starts again. With each gasp, the sleeper awakens, but so briefly and incompletely that he does not remember doing so in the morning. Someone with obstructive sleep apnea may stop breathing for ten seconds or longer – dozens, even hundreds of times each night.
Each time breathing stops, oxygen in the blood stream falls and the heart must work harder to circulate blood. Blood pressure rises and over time may stay elevated after breathing restarts. The heart sometimes beats irregularly and may even pause for several seconds. This may account for some deaths during sleep of people who went to bed in apparent good health.
How Do You Treat Sleep Apnea?
The dental solution to treating obstructive sleep apnea is to utilize a comfortable, removable oral appliance. The oral appliance is an articulated elastomeric mandibular advancement appliance. This dental device is designed to allow the advancement of the mandible through a controlled range of forward movement, while at the same time allowing for a limited amount of vertical and lateral movement of the mandible. This type of appliance has proven extremely effective in treating snoring and sleep apnea.
There are three component materials in this type of sleep appliance. The body of the appliance is constructed of elastomer, a pliable material that offers the patients a much greater degree of comfort than harder acrylic materials. For additional support to the teeth as well as the temporomandibular joint, hard acrylic “bite pads” are placed in the molar regions. A commercially pure titanium articulating component grants the appliance the many adjustment characteristics that make this appliance unique – it is kind to the tissues, the teeth, and the temporomandibular joint.
These unique oral appliances are now a great choice for those who suffer from snoring and/or have mild to moderate OSAs. If you think you suffer from OSA, don’t hesitate to call a dentist specializing in sleep and TMJ therapy to schedule an evaluation. You’ll be glad you did.