How does snoring happen?
Snoring is a noise generated by the vibration of the soft parts of the throat, on breathing in, during sleep. The noise is made by the walls of the pharynx – the part of the throat at the back of the tongue, which is held open by several small muscles.
During sleep, those muscles relax, narrowing the airway and partially blocking off the air passage so that breathing in makes the pharyngeal walls vibrate, making the noise of snoring. The narrower your airway becomes, the greater the vibration and the louder the snoring. Typically, snorers often wake with a dry mouth and sore throat, caused by sleeping with the mouth open and the strain of snoring.
But only older people snore?
Snoring is extremely common, with up to 60% of men and 40% of women snoring on some nights. About 25% snore on most nights. Snoring occurs in all age groups, including children, but is most common in the middle aged. It’s been estimated that over 60% of people above the age of 60 snore!
- Obesity: Particularly around the neck, causes additional fatty deposits in the throat, narrowing the air passage and making it difficult to breathe.
- Drinking alcohol: Causes greater muscle relaxation during sleep and an abnormally floppy upper airway.
- Medications: Those such as sleeping tablets, anaesthetic drugs, oral steroids, epilepsy drugs, testosterone, narcotics and barbiturates can cause throat muscle relaxation.
- Age: As we grow older, the flesh and throat muscles lose elasticity and become flabby.
- Anatomical factors: This can include a fleshy or deformed uvula (the fleshy hanging bit above the throat), enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids (common cause of snoring in children), large tongue, thyroid swelling, nasal polyps or a deviated nasal septum.
- Blockage of nasal passage: May cause snoring because it makes the person breathe through their mouth. A blocked nose also creates a vacuum inside the throat, which may suck air passages closed.
- Allergies, hay fever and smoking: May lead to narrowed nasal passages and aggravate snoring.
- Breathing through the mouth: May cause snoring because tissues at the back of the mouth are more floppy than at the back of the nose.
- Inherited factors: Variations in the shape of the jaw, airway, face or nose may result in some people having a small upper airway.
- Sleeping on your back: Can lead to or aggravate snoring, as it allows the throat to relax and block airways.
Research now shows that there are serious medical complications associated with snoring.
Medical: Habitual snorers have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (hypertension, stroke, cardiovascular arrhythmias, angina). However, significantly, snoring is a signal to a life-threatening condition called sleep apnea. How is snoring different from sleep apnea? In snoring, there’s partial obstruction of the airway, whereas in sleep apnea, there’s total obstruction of the airway. Almost everybody who has sleep apnea snores, but not all snoring involves sleep apnea.
Social: Snoring can create relationship issues for many people. Australian researchers have found that bed partners can have 25% extra sleep disturbance when they sleep with a snorer.
Should snoring be treated?
That’s up to the snorer and others who may be affected. It’s important to have appropriate tests to diagnose whether your snoring is a sign of sleep apnea, particularly if you have daytime drowsiness or wake up feeling tired. It may just save your life.
- Specially trained sleep dentist: We can look for signs that may be indicative of sleep-disordered breathing, for example, the way your teeth are aligned, how your soft tissues in your mouth present, how your tongue sits, or how your bone structures have been affected by mouth breathing. At Island Dental, we have undertaken extensive training to be able to detect signs of airway issues which may need attention in order to improve the quality of your life.
- Sleep physician: We may discuss going to see a sleep physician who can undertake a hospital-based sleep study, or we may recommend you do a home-based sleep study first, to rule out sleep apnea.
- ENT: In some cases, the first line of action is to work with an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor who can help to make an assessment of where the problem may lie.
- Hospital-based sleep study: This is a test that investigates snoring and helps to diagnose sleep apnea. Simple, non-invasive equipment is used to measure your sleep and breathing in special rooms in diagnostic centres called sleep units.
- Home-based sleep study: This is a diagnostic tool which we use at Island Dental – an economical, convenient way of screening for sleep-disordered breathing to help decide if you need further testing. The WatchPAT™ monitors changes in your body position and blood oxygen saturation levels. It also identifies sleep apnea events just like the equipment used in hospital sleep labs.
- Lifestyle changes: Sleep on your side, lose weight, avoid alcohol, give up smoking, eliminate sedatives, and avoid or remedy colds, allergies and sinus problems.
- Surgery: Remove tonsils or adenoids; change the shape of the mouth or jaws; or reduce and tighten soft tissues in the soft palate or throat, making them more open, rigid and less able to collapse.
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): This is a machine that inflates the throat by blowing air into the nose through a mask, preventing collapse of the airway during sleep. Treatment is immediately effective but, unfortunately, US studies reveal that only three people out of 10 continue with it after a six-month period, as many find it inconvenient and the noise annoying.
- Dental appliance: At Island Dental, we are able to produce a simple, versatile non-invasive anti-snoring device that works by advancing the lower jaw and opening the airway. The most important element of this type of dental appliance is the technique we use to position your jaw. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ technique, so avoid cheap, over-the-counter substitutes. It’s also critical to ensure the device doesn’t create problems with your bite and TMJs (temporomandibular joints of the jaw). By using the technology we have at our practice, we can monitor your bite and TMJs to ensure you don’t develop other problems.