Dr Svend Ulrich Jensen asks: “Why do we snore? And what can we do about it?”
National Stop Snoring Week is marked annually at the end of April, with the aim of promoting awareness about the potential health complications of snoring and related sleep disturbances. Are you a long-suffering partner of a snorer, or maybe your snoring has been (ahem) commented on by whomever you share a bed with? When should a patient worry and what can a dental practitioner do to help someone who snores?There are around 15 million snorers in the UK and far more are male than female . Jokes about snoring have been around for centuries but regular, heavy snoring is no laughing matter if you are the snorer, or if you live with one.
The hoarse, raspy sound of a snore occurs when the upper airway is partially blocked during sleep. The soft palate and other tissues in the mouth, nose and throat vibrate as the air flows past and the snore is louder the more forceful this action is. If you have a partner who snores occasionally, you will probably know the factors that prompt a noisy night.
Overindulgence in alcohol is a common trigger, because alcohol works as a sedative, making the muscles at the back of the throat relax more than normal, or even collapse.
When snoring is habitual, this is more of a problem. Regularly disrupted sleep because of snoring will impact on the mental and physical health of both the snorer and their partner. Decamping to the spare room is OK as a temporary measure, but most couples will prefer not to sleep apart in the long term.
A loss of intimacy will affect a relationship; if there is nowhere else for the non-snoring partner to go, being constantly woken up and feeling tired during the day as a result will cause resentment. On-going sleep debt will lead to and exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress, making it harder to cope with life . It is one thing to be sleep deprived as a new parent, but years of fitful sleep because your partner is a heavy snorer will wear anyone down.
For the frequent snorer, they need to find out what is causing the problem. Just as overindulgence can be a trigger for a usually quiet sleeper, regularly drinking too much is a major cause of habitual snoring (alcohol is associated with poor-quality sleep generally) . Smoking is another trigger for chronic snoring, because it can irritate the lining of the airways, leading to swelling and/or a build-up of catarrh. That smokers should quit their habit goes without saying; drinking in moderation by following the government’s alcohol guidelines will keep disrupted nights to a minimum as well as improve long-term good health. People who are overweight snore more too. For some, then, a snoring problem can be fixed by making key lifestyle changes.
Other causes include sleeping position (it’s better to sleep on your side, rather than on your back) and nasal stuffiness because of allergies. Physiological factors, like being a mouth breather, will mean you snore loudly and more frequently, also having smaller nostrils and if your tongue drops to the back of the mouth during sleep.
Obstructed Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is a condition whereby breathing temporarily stops during sleep, waking the individual up. This brings some serious health risks, because long-term, undiagnosed OSA can lead to high blood pressure and leave someone susceptible to a heart attack and/or stroke, and cardiac arrhythmias .
Aside from cardiac issues, there may be gastro-intestinal complications like reflux which, when frequent, can damage the dental enamel by exposing it to corrosive stomach acid. Heavy snorers or people with OSA often suffer from xerostomia which is not only uncomfortable, but without the rinsing effect of a healthy salivary flow, leaves them prone to increased decay, periodontal problems and halitosis.
Dental practitioners can do a lot to help snorers – they can get them to talk about their snoring for a start! The dentist can look inside the mouth to check for oral problems that could be causing the snoring, and, for example, a mouthguard may be recommended to keep the tongue away from the back of the throat.
If appropriate, smoking cessation should be discussed, or perhaps you might consider how to make other lifestyle changes, such as improving the diet to lose weight. A dentist, dental hygienist or dental therapist will of course discuss good, preventive oral care and how to keep the whole mouth clean and healthy while putting together a stop snoring treatment plan for the patient.
Snoring is an irritating habit, yet not one to simply be endured. Snoring can impact on general and oral health, yet the solution is often simple and will drastically improve the quality of life for both the snorer and anyone who lives with them.
Dr Svend Ulrich Jensen is a principle dentist in Hundested Denmark. For general oral health he recommends the Tandex range of products, visit www.tandex.dk
1] BSSAA: British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association.
2] NHS. Sleep and tiredness, 30 May 2018. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/ (accessed February 2019).
3] Roehrs T, Roth T. Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use. Alcohol Research and Health. 2001 Jan 1; 25 (2):101-9.
4] British Heart Foundation. Getting a good night’s sleep improves heart health. Link: https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2018/august/getting-a-good-nights-sleep-improves-heart-health (accessed February 2019).