Has your loved one ever complained to you that your snoring is too loud, or that you keep grinding your teeth in your sleep?
Or perhaps you know someone whose throat is always dry when he wakes up, or whose jaw is constantly hurting in the morning. If that’s the case, it might be time to consult a dentist.
If you are a habitual snorer, your snoring issue does not just interrupt your loved one’s sleep. It could also affect your quality of life.
Many among us mainly show up at work feeling tired or restless, and relying on coffee to get through the day. But what many of us don’t realise is that this is not normal. In fact, it could be life-threatening.
For instance, if you are constantly feeling tired or sleepy during the day, this could lead to loss of concentration during classes or meetings, or while driving.
So what could be the root cause of these symptoms?
Why do people snore?
Snoring can stem from many different reasons — if you’re constantly sniffling from an allergy or sinus infection, the clogged nasal airways could be the source of your snoring issues.
You could also be snoring because of throat and nose conditions such as poor muscle tone or bulky throat tissue.
It could also be due to obesity, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking or use of sleeping pills.
Many snorers suffer from a dangerous condition called sleep apnea.
What is sleep apnea and why is it dangerous?
According to a 2016 study by a group of researchers at JurongHealth, one in three Singaporeans suffers from moderate to severe sleep apnea.
About 90 per cent of Singaporeans are unaware of their condition.
Sleep apnea is categorised as a sleep disorder where a person stops breathing periodically during sleep. These cessations of breathing can occur from a few times to 100 times a night.
It occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax, causing the airway to narrow as you breathe, thus reducing the amount of air passing through to enter your lungs.
When you stop breathing in your sleep, the oxygen level in the blood is reduced, resulting in your brain being "awakened". In order to breathe normally again, your brain will send signals to wake you up for a brief moment.
This may result in a snort, choke or gasp. But most importantly, you are being pulled out of your deepest stage of sleep during these cycles, and it could be the reason why you are constantly tired the next day as the quality of sleep has been disturbed.
The pattern can repeat five to 30 times, or even more, each hour for the entire night.
Left untreated, sleep apnea may lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart diseases or stroke.
What are the signs of sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea can affect a person in various different ways, in both the day and night.
The symptoms during the day include morning headaches, constant lack of energy, daytime sleepiness, mood changes and poor concentration.
The symptoms at night include loud or frequent snoring, insomnia, gasping for air, silent pauses in breathing and waking up in the night to go to the bathroom.
Who can diagnose if I have a snoring problem or sleep apnea?
If you suspect that you have a snoring problem, severe teeth grinding or sleep apnea, you can visit your dentist for advice.
By examining the conditions of your mouth, throat and teeth, together with detailed discussions with you and your spouse as well as a sleep test, a dentist can gather more information on your risks of snoring or sleep apnea.
For example, your dentist will be able to tell if you grind your teeth, which is something your brain makes you do in an attempt to open your airways.
Headaches, sore jaws, and worn-down or sensitive teeth are some ways that your dentist can tell if you grind your teeth.
Nocturnal grinding may lead to premature wearing and cracking of teeth, cheek and tongue biting, sore and painful jaws and muscles, and even recurring headaches and neck aches.
Habitual mouth breathing due to sinus problems may also result in snoring and sleep issues, in both children and adults.
How can the dentist help me deal with my snoring or sleep apnea problem?
Treatment for sleep apnea is to use the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. However, for snorers and patients who cannot tolerate the CPAP, your dentist will be able to provide an alternative solution.
Worn during sleep, the custom-fitted oral positioning appliance is similar to an orthodontic retainer or a sports mouthguard. It brings the lower jaw slightly forward and prevents the airway from closing so you can breathe comfortably and reduce snoring.
According to research studies, 91 per cent of patients reported improvement in sleep quality after wearing a snoring appliance.
The best way to find out what type of treatment you need is to schedule for an appointment with your dentist, who may send you for a sleep test if he/she suspects that you suffer from sleep apnea.
T32 Dental Group is one place that offers such services because its dentists work closely with ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists and sleep physicians for co-treatment.
A patient, who suffered from the warning signs of sleep apnea before heading to T32 Dental Group, said: “I used to be really tired all the time. Even after an adequate amount of sleep at night, I always felt the need to take naps during the day, and never felt like I had a good night’s sleep.
"I almost never made any dinner appointments after 8pm as I knew I would want to fall asleep during dinner. I tried all sorts of methods but I couldn’t figure out what the problem was.
“But through a sleep test, I found out that sleep apnea is the reason behind my daytime sleepiness. Everything makes sense to me now, and I am really looking forward to treatments and seeing how my quality of life can improve.”