Snoring is the sound of partially obstructed breathing during sleep. It’s an indication that a portion of the airway is blocked. This partial blockage is caused by the soft tissues of the throat partially collapsing during sleep. The snoring sound comes from vibrations in the air as it passes through the narrowed airway. Airway obstruction causes the brain to move from deep sleep into lighter sleep, resulting in fragmented and/or interrupted sleep cycles.
Our bodies need oxygen to survive, and the brain will go to great lengths to ensure that we are getting a good supply of air, even if it means compromising deep sleep. When the airway is partially obstructed during sleep, the brain will automatically disrupt the sleep cycle in order to wake up enough to reopen airways. These attempts to open the airway during lighter sleep can result in clenching or grinding (and subsequent damage to teeth), jaw pain, or other dental issues. In addition, when a person has OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) they may experience daytime drowsiness, decreased ability to concentrate, or bouts of depression. They may even develop other health problems, some of which may be very serious.
An “apnea” occurs when the airway is completely blocked for 10 seconds or more. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) syndrome also includes “hypopneas” which is the reduction of airflow by 30 to 50% in conjunction with a waking up to a lighter level of sleep or a reduction of the oxygen levels in the blood. The classic sign of sleep apnea is snoring with intermittent pauses ending with a gasping sound. Sleep apnea has been proven to be related to high blood pressure, heart disease, increased risk of heart attack, gastric reflux or heartburn, increased risk of stroke, depression, and many others.
Fortunately, OSA can be treated in a number of ways, the most effective being continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). However CPAP machines can be difficult for some patients to tolerate. When someone does not tolerate a CPAP machine, or needs an alternative to the CPAP for travel or other special circumstances, one great alternative is Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT). This involves wearing an oral appliance that is custom fitted to the teeth by a specially trained dentist. The appliance moves the lower jaw forward, preventing the soft tissues from falling back and blocking the airway.
Dr. Grant McClendon of Bellingham Bay Dental is trained in treating sleep apnea using many different types of oral appliances. If you suspect that you or someone that you know may be suffering from sleep apnea, call our office and we can refer you to a sleep apnea specialist to determine the extent of your problem and prescribe a customized treatment plan. If it is determined that you could benefit from Oral Appliance Therapy, Dr. McClendon can create a custom-fit oral appliance to fit your specific needs. Effective treatment is an important part of a healthy and happy life for Obstructive Sleep Apnea sufferers, so don’t wait to find out more about this topic and see how we might be able to help you!