About 80 million people in North America snore, and approximately 12 million Americans have sleep apnea. So what’s the difference, and why does it matter?
Snoring is caused by the vibration of the soft palate and uvula, occurring when the airway becomes obstructed during sleep. Several things can obstruct the airway and cause you to snore, including allergies, drinking before bed, being overweight and having large tonsils or a deviated septum.
If you snore now and then, you probably have nothing to worry about. But chronic snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a more serious sleep disorder. People with sleep apnea stop breathing in their sleep – sometimes up to hundred times an hour – for one minute or longer. Left untreated, sleep apnea can increase your chances of serious health conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. At a minimum, you may feel groggy in the morning or unable to concentrate during the day.
The good news is sleep apnea is treatable. The two most common ways to treat sleep apnea are continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which is administered by a physician, and oral appliance therapy, which is administered by a dentist. CPAP therapy can be very effective for people with sleep apnea, but some find it difficult to sleep with a mask. More people are increasingly turning to the oral appliances administered by dentists. Oral appliances are small, flexible devices that look like mouthguards. They increase the airway space and reduce air velocity and soft tissue vibration (snoring) by moving the lower jaw into a forward position. Patients who have tried both say that oral appliances are more comfortable to wear, easier to care for and very cost-effective.