Dentistry has ventured into the new area of sleep medicine by helping snorers — and their exasperated sleeping partners — with custom-made anti-snoring devices. These oral appliances, which resemble orthodontic retainers or sports mouthguards, keep the snorer's airway clear and the bedroom quiet. To see how they work, you have to understand the mechanics of snoring.
Snoring occurs when the upper airway (back of the throat) becomes blocked by the tongue or other soft-tissue structures, such as large tonsils or a long soft palate. The vibrating of these obstacles creates the sound we call snoring.
Snoring is often worse when sleeping on one's back because that position encourages the lower jaw to fall back and the tongue to close off the airway. This is where Oral Appliance Therapy comes in. These custom-fitted devices are designed to keep the upper airway open during sleep by pulling the lower jaw forward, which in turn brings the tongue away from the throat. Dentists, and our office in particular, are the only source for Oral Appliance Therapy.
People who snore should have a thorough examination to rule out Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a potentially dangerous condition in which airflow can be cut off completely for 10 or more seconds (“a” – without; “pnea” – breath), reducing blood-oxygen levels. Chronic, loud snoring is a common finding with OSA.
Please remember that sleep is an integral part of health and well-being. In fact, we spend about a third of our lives doing it. If you are snoring or have any sleep-related breathing disorders that are waking you or your bed partner, be sure to tell our office. There are plenty of examples of the havoc wreaked by sleep-deprived individuals. Remember the Exxon Valdez?
To learn more about the topic of oral appliance therapy, please see the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”