Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious affliction which at times can be life threatening. It is defined by a series of events where a person actually stops breathing during sleep for as long as ten seconds. The lack of oxygen to the brain is damaging and the required rejuvenation through sleep is lessoned.
Most often people complain (actually their spouse) about snoring and snoring is one of the common indications that sleep apnea may be occurring. Other symptoms include morning headaches, excessive fatigue during the day, choking or gasping during sleep, insomnia and waking with a dry mount or sore throat.
If one suspects that they have sleep apnea, remember this can be life threatening, one should consult ones physician. A sleep study or an electronic sleep monitor may be necessary to reach a diagnosis. Snoring alone is not definitive of sleep apnea.
The goal of treatment is generally to improve the airway and assure a better and more consistent flow of air to the lungs during sleep. The treatment of sleep apnea varies. In some cases changing ones posture during sleep improves the airway. Losing weight (easier said than done admittedly but this is important after all) can open the airway as well. Surgery can create a larger airway. Finally the patient may need a breathing mask, which uses positive but gentle air pressure to provide more air to be breathed. Finally the dentist can make a special mouthpiece, which guides the lower jaw to a more forward position, which opens the airway.
The appliance the dentist can provide is a pair of clear custom made shells – one for the upper jaw and one for the lower jaw. The two are connected with adjustable elastic which as mentioned, repositions the lower jaw forward of ahead slightly but enough to open the airway and prevent snoring. (You can try this yourself. Jut your lower jaw forward until your lower teeth are ahead of the upper and try to make the snoring sound. When the lower jaw is forward enough, no snoring sound can be made!)
If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, consult with the dentist. The construction of the snoring appliance has to be coordinated with other dental treatment such as dental veneers, implants, braces and so forth.