I’ve heard it many times. Sharon comes in for her cleaning appointment and tells me I need to talk to her husband, Ted, about his snoring, because it’s been years since they’ve slept all night in the same bed.
I dutifully say I’ll do my best, knowing full well Ted will deny that he engages in this nocturnal ritual. Now, not every Ted denies this. The Teds that admit it will follow with “It’s not a big deal. Sharon just pokes me and makes me turn on my side.”
So what am I to do? Get between Sharon and Ted? The snoring already has, so there’s no place for me.
In the U.S., an estimated 87 million Americans snore, so you are not alone, but you could be in danger. There are some 40 million Americans who are chronic sufferers of sleep disorders, but only 10 per cent have been treated or diagnosed.
Snoring occurs when the airway or passage through which you breathe becomes partially blocked. This can happen when your tongue falls back as you drift off into deeper sleep.
As the diameter of the airway passage shrinks, throat vibrations begin, and snoring ensues.
In many scenarios, this compromise is minor and your body continues to get adequate amounts of oxygen causing little or no harm, although discord with your bed partner is something different altogether. However, this is a red flag as it could be one of the early signs or a component of obstructive sleep apnea.
In fact, 40 per cent of snorers have been shown to have OSA. Most all sleep apnea sufferers snore in between bouts of apnea or oxygen interruption.
In one well-known study, patients with untreated sleep apnea had a 37 per cent chance of dying within eight years, versus four per cent for patients who had received treatment for their sleep apnea. That’s scary enough to pay attention to that bed partner who is sawing some serious logs.
OSA sufferers have a rough night and don’t even know what’s happening to them. In a given night, these apneic events (when a patient stops breathing) can occur more than 30 times an hour.
Obviously, these individuals awake exhausted each morning, as they’ve been fighting for oxygen all night. Sleep should be a replenishing tool for each of us. Should you be worried? Well, to answer that, first analyze some signs and symptoms of OSA sufferers.
Common side effects of OSA include heart attacks or irregular heart beats, impotence, high blood pressure, stroke, heartburn, morning headaches, dry mouth, irritability, poor job performance, family discord and chronic sleepiness.
A simple test can be taken that will grade this last symptom called the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (you can find a copy on our website, firstname.lastname@example.org). Not all apneics will score high, but if you do, it is a very good sign of OSA, which can cause learning or memory disabilities, as well as periods of nodding off while on the phone or at work.
Obviously, sleep apnea patients are at a much greater risk of having auto accidents. So, what’s the cure? Unfortunately, there is not yet a cure for sleep apnea, but it is treatable.
The type of treatment for sleep apnea depends on the severity of the disorder as assessed by a sleep specialist. The goal of treatment is to keep the airway open during sleep leading to improved sleep, better oxygenation and enhanced daytime alertness.
First, the patient should undergo a sleep study to determine the extent of any sleep apnea.
Depending on the test results, the recommendations will vary.
A CPAP machine is often recommended in severe cases, while an oral appliance (airway orthotic) is usually suggested if the OSA is mild or moderate, or if the snoring is not a part of OSA at all.
As a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, I see not only patients from my dental practice but those from the general public to do initial assessments and then provide the oral appliance therapy where appropriate.
It is a very serious health concern, and one that has proven to shorten the life of the sufferer.
Dr. Sharnell Muir is an LVI certified dentist with Kelowna Dentistry By Design, 100-2033 Gordon Dr.