Can Snoring Be a Life-Threatening Problem? And How Can a Dentist Solve It?

We all know someone who snores, so everyone knows it's a major annoyance.   And if you share a bed with someone who snores, then you really know just how awful it is to be constantly woken up by that chainsaw sound and gasping for air. 

What you may not have known is that snoring is often a warning sign of a life-threatening disease called sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea is when a person that's sleeping stops breathing, sometimes for more than a minute.  If you've ever heard someone who snores suddenly gasp for breath, you're almost certainly witnessing sleep apnea.  You can see exactly what this process looks like in the video above.

You don't need medical training to know that stopping breathing for this long is going to cause major problems for the body.  Imagine if every time you fell asleep, someone started strangling you.  No matter how much you slept, you would never feel well-rested.  This makes sleep apnea sufferers much more exhausted during an average day, and makes them more than twice as likely to get into car accidents, with some studies showing that the danger is as great as if they were driving intoxicated. 

So sleep apnea makes you more tired, upsets the people you love, and makes you more likely to have a deadly accident.  For these reasons alone, it's important to get sleep apnea treated, but it's even more dangerous than just that.  When your body isn't getting oxygen, your pulse and your blood pressure skyrocket.  This puts tremendous strain on your heart and your blood vessels, majorly increasing the risk of heart attacks, and strokes.  Not only that, but because sleep apnea sufferers are constantly exhausted, they tend to exercise less and eat more, making them more likely to be overweight and predisposing diabetes, both of which can make the sleep apnea worse.

As bad as all these issues are, these are just a few of the most frightening effects of sleep apnea. In severe cases, it's even possible to suffocate to death while sleeping.  You may remember that Reggie White, a hall of fame NFL defensive end died from sleep apnea at the age of fourty-four.

Because sleep apnea can cause so many medical problems, the good news is that many medical insurers will help pay for treatment.  In the most severe cases, the best treatment is a device called a CPAP that forcibly blows air down your throat.  This is just as uncomfortable as it sounds, with roughly half of all patients fitted for a CPAP not using it.  

In 2005, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine released a report endorsing oral devices, custom made and fitted by a dentist, as treatment for all but the most severe sleep apnea sufferers, or those that cannot tolerate CPAP therapy.  

By making a customized oral appliance, we can open the airway so that the base of the tongue can't flop back and close off the breathing while you sleep.  Unfortunately, not enough dentists know how to provide this type of treatment, as it is rarely taught in dental schools.  We have learned the relevant techniques, because this is an area of dentistry that is life-changing, and can even be life-saving.  And because we feel so strongly about it, we have the systems in place to get medical insurance plans to help pay for it. Insurers know that untreated sleep apnea will have many serious and costly effects down the road, so they have accepted that it's in their best interest to help apnea sufferers get treatment that will make them healthier and can make it easier for them to lose weight.

This is an extremely serious topic.  If you snore, we encourage you to make an appointment to have your risk factors checked immediately.  Don't let sleep apnea compromise your health and make you feel terrible.  Call us today at (718) 268-1561,  or request a consultation.