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Sleep Apnea

While snoring itself may be harmless, it can also develop into or be a symptom of a more serious medical condition know as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

What causes snoring?

Snoring is caused by a narrow airway. That’s because air travels faster through a slender tube than through a broad one. This rapidly moving air causes the soft tissues of the throat (the tonsils, soft palate and uvula) to vibrate. It is this vibration that is the cause of snoring. It’s like putting a flag in front of a fan: the faster the fan, the greater the flutter.

Why is the airway narrow in snorers?

Many things can take up space in the airway, reducing its diameter. These can include large tonsils, a long, soft palate or uvula, and, excessive adipose “fat” tissue in people who are overweight. The most common cause of a narrowed airway is a tongue that relaxes too much during sleep and the tongue falls back into the airway with each breath taken.

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

When the tongue has fallen completely against the back of the throat, the airway is blocked and breathing stops. Once that happens, the harder the sleeper tries to breath, the tighter the airway seal becomes. It’s like trying to drink through a straw that’s two sizes too small.

The airway obstruction won’t clear until the brain’s oxygen level falls low enough to partially awaken the sleeper. The tongue then returns to a more normal position, and the airway seal is broken usually with a loud gasp

Help for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea

Mild or occasional symptoms of OSA may be alleviated by lifestyle changes including:

  • Losing excess weight
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Within 3 hours of bed time, avoiding alcohol, heavy meals, and medications that make you drowsy.

When symptoms are more severe, and these measures don’t resolve the problem, other treatment measures may include:

  • Surgery to the nose, throat, tongue or jaw.
  • Nasal CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure), a therapy in which an air compression device and a nose mask are often used to force the airway open and aid breathing during sleep.
  • Dental Appliance Therapy, which is an effective way of treating snoring and OSA for many patients. It may be employed on its own or in combination with other methods of treatment.

The airway obstruction won’t clear until the brain’s oxygen level falls low enough to partially awaken the sleeper. The tongue then returns to a more normal position, and the airway seal is broken usually with a loud gasp

What is a dental oral appliance?

A dental oral appliance is a small plastic device, similar to an orthodontic retainer or an athletic mouth guard. It is worn in the mouth during sleep to prevent the soft throat tissues from collapsing and obstructing the airway. Dentists with training in dental oral appliance therapy can design, construct and fit these special appliances to meet their patients’ individual situations and conditions.

In recent clinical studies, physicians and dentists have found that, in a majority of patients, a well-made, well-fitted dental oral appliance will effectively reduce or eliminate snoring, and significantly relieve symptoms of mild and moderate OSA.

Dental oral appliances work in three ways: by bringing the lower jaw forward, by holding the tongue forward, and by lifting a drooping soft palate. A combination appliance may perform two or more of these functions at the same time. Dental oral appliance therapy is not a new idea. It was in use as far back as the early 1900’s, but it was not until the 1980’s that physicians and dentists began to work together to study and develop this alternative for of treatment, enabling more patients to benefit from it.

Advantages of Dental Oral Appliance Therapy

  • Dental appliances are relatively small and easy to wear. The appliance weighs only a couple of ounces, and its small size makes it easy to travel with. Most people find that it takes no more than a few weeks to become completely comfortable wearing the appliance.
  • Dental oral appliances are relatively inexpensive. The total cost of therapy is considerably less than the cost of alternative treatments.
  • Treatment with a dental oral appliance is reversible and non-invasive (it does not require surgery).

Interested? First, see your physician

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