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Straight Teeth Talk: Snoring - it's more than just noise

By By Mac Lee
Feb. 5, 2013 at midnight
Updated Feb. 4, 2013 at 8:05 p.m.


I can assure you there is more to snoring and apnea than just noise. While snoring appears to be a problem for the person hearing the chainsaw, it can, in fact, be a serious medical problem for the one making the noise. Snoring can be the sign of heart disease, obesity and acid reflux, just to name a few medical problems.

A good snorer can crank out up to 90-plus decibels, which is the same as a train whistle at 500 feet. The noise comes from trying to breathe through a restricted area. During sleep, the tongue and back of the throat collapse, and the air gets hung up, so to speak. It's like letting the air out of a balloon and restricting the air flow.

This restriction can cause a hypoxia, which means air is getting in - but not enough air to oxygenate the body. Apnea occurs when the person quits breathing all together. Apnea is when the train quits blowing the whistle. The person didn't stop snoring; they stopped breathing. The bed partner is laying there wondering if it's all over. If you live with someone with apnea, you know what I am talking about. In severe apnea, the blood oxygen content, which should be above 90 percent, can go down by 30 percent.

If you snore and don't have apnea, the only harm is sore ribs from being poked all night. If you snore and stop breathing, you can be assured you have apnea. Apnea comes in three forms, mild, moderate and severe, and each stage is treated differently.

The only way to know if you just snore or have apnea is with a formal sleep study at a recognized sleep clinic. A trained sleep doctor is the only one who can make a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

Snoring and apnea can be treated both medically and dentally. The gold standard of treating medically is with the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. The CPAP is an air pump that forces much-needed air through the nose and down the throat. When it is allowed to do its thing, it brings back the proper amount of oxygen, stops the apnea and stops the snoring. I don't have to list the positive or the negatives on the machine because people either love them or hate them.

If you hate the CPAP or simply can't tolerate it, the dental solution may be best for you. The Food and Drug Administration now recommends oral devices, called oral appliance therapy (OAT), as treatment of mild to moderate apnea. There are several kinds of devices, but all of them pull the jaw in a forward position and comfortably keep it there all night long.

When the jaw comes forward, it pulls the back of the tongue forward. It's the same as a bay house with a front door and back door. When you open just the front door, only so much air comes through, but when you open the back door, too, you get all the air you want. With the tongue out of the way, the back door is open via the throat.

These appliances work very well, but it is not wise to go to the dentist for help without collaborating with a sleep clinic and sleep doctor because they are the ones that create and confirm the diagnosis. It is imperative to know how much oxygen you are getting, and dentists can't officially tell you that information.

Sleep dentistry has brought medical doctors and dentists closer together. Because I have been trained in sleep dentistry, I now am able to work hand-in-hand with three Victoria sleep doctors: Drs. Robin Adams, Gus Sandigo and Joseph Hoang.

I also work closely with Premier Sleep Clinic.

If you or your loved one snores, please seek help from your dentist or medical doctor.

Dr. Mac Lee practices in Edna. He is a international speaker to dentists and is an adviser to Dr. Mehmet Oz. To learn more, visit drmaclee.com or call 361-782-7191.

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