Snoring/Sleep Apnea

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Snoring can be a warning sign that normal breathing is not taking place during sleep. While there are many conditions that can lead to snoring, research has shown that chronic snoring causes nerve and tissue changes in the pharangeal tissues (throat) and can lead to a more serious disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). For an estimated 20 million Americans, their ability to maintain regular breathing during sleep is impossible.

Normal breathing

When you breathe normally, air passes through the nose and past the flexible structures in the back of the throat such as the soft palate, uvula, and tongue. While you are awake, muscles hold the airway open. When you fall asleep, these muscles relax, but, normally, the airway stays open.


Snoring is the sound of obstructed breathing during sleep. While snoring may be harmless (benign snoring), it can also be the sign of a more serious medical condition which progresses from upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

What causes snoring?

Snoring occurs when the structures in the throat are large and when the muscles relax enough to cause the airway to narrow and partially obstruct the flow of air. As air tries to pass through these obstructions, the throat structures vibrate causing the sound we know as snoring. Large tonsils, a long soft palate and uvula and excess fat deposits contribute to airway narrowing.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

When obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs, the tongue is sucked against the back of the throat. This blocks the upper airway, causing air flow to stop. When the oxygen level in the brain becomes low enough the sleeper partially awakens, the obstruction in the throat clears, and the flow of air starts again - usually with a loud gasp.

People with OSA have chronic loud snoring, disrupted sleep, low blood oxygen levels, and considerable strain on the cardiovascular system. This is why obstructive sleep apnea, left untreated, increases risk for heart attack and stroke. Also, the effects of OSA include excessive daytime sleepiness, lack of energy and depression. Statistics indicate that next to drunk driving, falling asleep while driving is the second greatest cause of auto accidents.

In children, sleep disorders are often associated with "inattentiveness or hyperactivity". Some carry a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) until their sleep disorder is detected. Research data suggests that 25% of all children with ADHD could have ADHD eliminated if their habitual snoring and any associated breathing disorder during sleep were effectively treated.

Oral Appliance Therapy

In recent years, snoring and sleep apnea have been recognized by the medical profession as being manageable with intra oral appliances (Oral Airway Dilators). Oral appliances that treat snoring and obstructive sleep apnea are devices, worn in the mouth, which are similar to orthodontic retainers or sports mouthguards. Oral appliance therapy involves the selection, design, fitting and use of a specifically designed oral appliance that, when worn during sleep, maintains an opened, unobstructive airway in the throat. Currently, there are over 40 different types of oral appliance available. Oral appliances may be used alone or in combination with other means of treating OSA, including general health and weight management, surgery or nasal continuous air pressure (CPAP). Oral appliances work in several ways:

  • By repositioning the lower jaw, tongue, soft palate and uvula
  • By stabilizing the lower jaw and tongue
  • By increasing the muscle tone of the tongue

Dentists with training in oral appliance therapy who are familiar with the various types and designs of appliances can determine which one is best suited for your specific dental and medical conditions. The dentist will work with your physician as part of the medical team in your diagnosis, treatment and on-going care. Oral appliance therapy can take from several weeks to several months to complete. Even after the initial phase of treatment is complete, your dentist will continue to follow you to be sure that treatment remains successful and to evaluate the response of your teeth and jaws.