Using Oral and Dental Devices to Control Snoring

Is chronic snoring keeping you up at night? Find out how dental and oral devices can be used to control snoring and help you get a good night’s sleep.

Using Oral and Dental Devices to Control Snoring

Image by Marc Lewis on Flickr.

The quality of our nightly sleep is something that we all take for granted. That is, until something happens which interrupts it. The impact of chronic sleeplessness can be devastating for physical health, so doctors and therapists routinely stress the importance of proper rest and recovery. The question is, what happens if sleep becomes an impossible task? What if your rest was to come under siege from insomnia, snoring, or a chronic sleep apnea?

These days, snoring is so common that it has become a bit of a cultural joke. In blockbuster comedies, frustrated wives stand over snoring husbands, brandishing a shoe or a slipper. Women on topical daytime debate shows have frivolous discussions about it and turn to the studio audience for helpful suggestions. We are certainly not used to thinking of snoring as being a serious problem. And in actual fact, it can be.

While the vast majority of snorers do not grunt and snuffle in their sleep because of an underlying health issue, the reality is that snoring decreases the quality of sleep. It can also genuinely cause tensions in a relationship, particularly if one of the two is a lighter sleeper. The scenario in which a husband and wife sleep in separate bedrooms, because one cannot stand the noise from the other, might be a bit of cliché, but it is rarely an empty one.   

The Trouble with Chronic Snorers

The truth is that snoring can be completely harmless. It can also be a product of unidentified health issues. The most serious of these is a condition called ‘sleep apnea.’ This can be a dangerous problem, so if you are a heavy and chronic snorer, you are advised to consult your doctor. With a sleep apnea, a person snores because their airways are obstructed. They actually stop breathing for a second or two.

This can happen anywhere between five and a hundred times every night. It is characterised by extreme restlessness and periods of deep sleep, followed by unexplained periods of wakefulness. This occurs because the brain wakes the body up if breathing stops for long enough to potentially cause damage. Essentially, sleep apnea sufferers are always being pulled out of rest as a way to stop themselves from dying.

If this sounds a little scary, you are right. The condition can take a heavy toll on physical health, because the body and mind struggle to get the rest that they need. In most cases, a doctor recommends the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine and mask. This is an electronic device which pumps air into the lungs of the sleeper and prevents them from waking up every time an obstruction occurs. The problem is that it happens to be a noisy and cumbersome device. If you can avoid having to use one, by addressing problems early, make it your prerogative.

Sleep Apnea, Snoring, and You

While not all snoring is caused by sleep apnea, the two are closely related. The grunting, snorting, and sniffling noises associated with snoring are caused by the temporary interruption of breathing. This constricts the nostrils and makes it difficult to draw in oxygen. The result is a rather unpleasant whistle, wheeze, or other characteristic sound. For heavy snorers who have experienced chronic issues, the first step is to consult a doctor and rule out the possibility of a sleep apnea.

If the tests come back clear and you can confidently say that snoring is your only problem, it might be time to consider a practical plan of action. For those in long term marriages and relationships, it can be helpful to discuss the issue with a partner. After all, they probably have a vested interest in encouraging you to find a solution. If there is tension in the relationship, due to chronic snoring, try to take the concerns of your partner seriously.

If possible, sit down together and talk about the impact that your snoring is having on the relationship. Your partner may feel stressed, exhausted, or angry and the best course of action is to diffuse this tension. Make it clear that you are interested in and committed to finding a solution. Unless the arrangement has always been a normal part of your relationship, do your best to avoid sleeping separately. This may put an unhealthy distance between you.

Snoring Makes Teeth Suffer

It is also important to recognise the damage that chronic snoring can do to oral health. This is often overlooked, but it is something that dentists see all the time. As snoring reduces the volume of saliva in the mouth (and leads to ‘dry mouth’), the amount of friction and resistance on the teeth is increased as you sleep. Over time, this can contribute the development of various oral health issues. For instance, halitosis, burning mouth syndrome, dental infections, gum disease, tooth decay, and mouth sores.

There is a lack of reliable information on the link between snoring and poor oral health. The majority of people are not aware of how important healthy saliva functions really are. Yet, saliva represents the primary method of natural cleaning within the oral cavity. It cleanses the tongue, gums, and cheeks of unwanted dead cells. If these cells are not eradicated, they begin to rot and give the breath an unpleasant smell. This is why most people wake up in the morning with bad breath even though they brushed their teeth just before bed.

Without the support of fully functioning saliva glands, while you sleep, the risk of developing gum disease and tooth decay rises. This means that for snorers, dental health is extremely important. You must keep up with regular dentist appointments and clean your teeth, properly, twice a day. If you snoring is extreme or related to a sleep apnea, your doctor will be able to advise you on the best solutions. And, your dentist will be able to confirm whether or not damage has been done to your teeth.

Using Dental Devices for Relief

The good news is that there are a lot more options out there than the rather scary looking CPAP devices and breathing apparatuses. It is possible to be fitted with a retainer-like oral device. These handy little tools gently change the shape of the mouth, jaw, and tongue while you sleep, so that oxygen can make its way in and out of your lungs unobstructed. In fact, there are so many different types of dental device that it is impossible to name them all here.

However, two of the most common are the clasp retained mandibular positioner (quite a mouthful) and the adjustable PM positioner. This latter device is the more serious tool of the two and is commonly recommended for sleep apnea sufferers. To apply it, you need the help of a dentist. It is made of super flexible acrylic which softens on contact with heat. This allows it to mould to the shape of the mouth. Its purpose is to open the anterior for breathing which is easy and unobstructed.

The CRMP is a similar tool. It uses a series of clasp fastenings to secure the mandible and prevent it from retruding. Unlike the PM positioner, it is a single piece unit and its vertical measurements can be easily adjusted by altering its height dimensions. It creates a larger airway than the PM positioner but, essentially, both devices do the same job. For a more widely available solution, you could pick up a standard Snore Guard from your local pharmacy.

This is a very basic oral device that is worn in the mouth at night. It prevents the jaw from receding and encourages the tongue to find an opening between its upper and lower segments. This allows air to move unobstructed through the gap. As a result, snoring is reduced and the sleeper begins to condition their mouth to behave more healthily without having to put any conscious effort in at all. The Snore Guard is cheap, easy to find, and can be bought over the counter in most regions.

Getting Used to an Oral Device

If you have never worn a dental or oral device while sleeping before, it will feel strange to begin with. We are not used to having things in our mouths during sleep, so the urge will be to bite or spit it out. Resist this temptation and do your best to completely ignore the presence of the guard or mandible adjuster. It may take some time for you to get used to it, but after a couple of weeks, the sensation should stop feeling so unusual.

If you do struggle to keep the guard in your month as you fall asleep, try leaving a glass of water close by. If you wake up and feel uncomfortable, adjust or remove (if possible) the guard and give your mouth some moisture. Then, replace the dental device and try to forget about it again. For those with chronic sleep problems, the best advice is to avoid eating less than an hour before bed and keep electronic devices away from the sleeping area.

According to a number of recent studies, the prevalence of sleep disorders is on the rise. Many behavioural experts and psychologists believe that this is due to an ability to switch off from technological devices. They strongly recommend keeping mobile phones, tablets, and laptops out of the bedroom when it is time to sleep. Otherwise, the brain is not aware that it is should be winding down. Instead, it continues to be very active and this can cause restless sleep.

How to Take the Next Step

As aforementioned, if your snoring is very heavy and has been chronic for a number of years, it is important to get tested for a sleep apnea. If you are fairly confident that the issue is a minor one, the dentist is a good place to start. Your dental specialist will be able to spot any underlying oral health issues and help you to come up with an effective plan of action. In winter, especially, oral health can take a real hit. To save your smile, keep your teeth white, and reduce snoring symptoms, listen to the advice of the experts.

There is a chance that your dentist will prescribe a dental device or an oral adjuster. If this is the case, follow all instructions carefully and use it only as recommended. In most cases, however, a lifestyle change is enough. The specialist is likely to ask you about your alcohol habits, whether or not you smoke, how healthy your diet is, and how much exercise you do in a typical week. These questions are not asked so that the dentist can pass judgement on you.

You must answer honestly and accurately. It is the only way to find an effective solution. If you are overweight, you may need to think seriously about the impact of this on your health and on your snoring. Even a moderately intense exercise and eating regime can make a huge difference to the relief of nightly symptoms. It is also worth switching up your sleeping position, particularly if you are a fairly still sleeper and tend to lie with the same posture each night.

But most important of all, take good care of your teeth. It is true what they say; oral health can be a window to the wellbeing of the body. If your mouth is in a poor condition, your body is likely to follow suit. So, maintain a thorough brushing and flossing routine. Eat as healthily as possible and try to avoid consuming too many sugary drinks. If you are worried that there might be a problem with your teeth, do not put off visiting the dentist. It is their job to help you in the fastest and most stress free way possible.

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