Snoring can be harmless, but it can also be the sign of a more serious medical condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA occurs when the tongue and soft tissue falls back into the throat during sleep, completely blocking the airway and stopping breathing. Obstructive sleep apnea has been associated with cardiovascular problems as well as daytime sleepiness.
Your dentist’s office is one place that may offer some relief. Custom-fitted mouthpieces, or oral appliances, can help alleviate sleep apnea and snoring. An oral appliance is a piece of plastic or silicone that fits completely or partially within the mouth and holds oral structures in a position that allows easier breathing when you sleep. Oral appliances work by repositioning the lower jaw, tongue, soft palate and uvula; stabilizing the lower jaw and tongue; and increasing the muscle tone of the tongue. According to The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, snoring is improved and often eliminated in almost 100 percent of patients who use oral appliances.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved 16 different oral appliances for the treatment of OSA. Appliances are designed differently and have hardware in different positions. While the underlying effect of one appliance may be the same as the other, you may not be able to use a certain appliance because of the anatomy of your mouth or an allergic reaction.
An oral appliance can cause side effects including excess salivation, dry mouth, tooth pain and joint pain. All of these are easily corrected with time or adjustment of the appliance by your dentist. On the other hand, long-term side effects are a bigger problem. As many as half of patients using an oral appliance will have teeth that change position and some even have a shift in their jaw as well. Patients can work with their dentist to find the right balance between better sleep and prevention of long-term oral problems.
The ideal amount of sleep needed per night varies by person, but sound sleep helps us function mentally and physically during our waking hours. While we sleep, the body secretes a hormone that repairs and regenerates tissue. Sleep might also reinforce our memories and help process complex emotions.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes as well as 1,550 fatalities per year. Twenty-eight percent of men over age 65 suffer from sleep apnea. A person that is afflicted with untreated obstructive sleep apnea is up to four times as likely to have a stroke, as well as three times more likely to have heart disease. Up to 50 percent of sleep apnea patients have high blood pressure. Sleep disorders cost an estimated $15.9 billion in healthcare each year.