Tuesday March 22, 2022

It is not uncommon for me to get a strange look when I ask a patient about snoring in the dental office. After an explanation about some of the reasons I include this on my medical history form, the patient will often say, “Well, I don’t snore but my spouse (usually husband) does. In fact, we sleep in separate bedrooms.”

A better way to ask someone about snoring is to ask, “Have you been told you snore?” Snoring can be a huge nuisance to the bed partner and is actually very detrimental to both people. For those without a bed partner, snoring can be assessed with apps such as Snore Lab, which measures snoring levels throughout the night. 

Snoring is a sign of a restricted airway, which means that there is a possible depletion of air getting into the lungs and thus the brain. You spend approximately one third of your life sleeping, which means if you live to 90 years old, you may have spent 30 years sleeping. Oxygen depletion during sleep has both short-term and long-term consequences. I have read multiple studies which suggest a reduction of oxygen to the body can take 6-10 years off of your life. Sleep is one of the most mysterious states of being – we don’t know a lot about what is going on during sleep without it being recorded. Wouldn’t you want to know if your body wasn’t being oxygenated properly?

A restricted airway can be caused by numerous different factors. Many times, it is developmental and starts early in life. As we age, this risk for developing a restricted airway increases with things like gaining weight, muscle tone laxity, and even sleep position. Snoring is a fluttering of soft tissue in the back of throat due to there not being enough space for air to pass through. Not only does snoring have the potential to affect your brain and the way you feel on a day-to-day basis, it also disturbs the sleep of the person sleeping next to you….and in some cases, people in other rooms.

Snoring does not mean you have sleep apnea (a serious disorder measured by a sleep test,) but is a significant risk factor. If you do have sleep apnea, you need to know this so that it can be treated and you can live a better quality of life. If you don’t have sleep apnea and just snore, this can also be treated, and you may be able to make it back into your own bedroom.

Aside from snoring, if you have any of the following: familial history of sleep apnea, history of daytime drowsiness, history of clenching/grinding, history of TMJ disorder, history of mood disorders/depression, witnessed apnea events (gasping at night), large tongue with ridges on the sides, tooth wear, high blood pressure, gastric reflux, large neck (Males >17 / Females>16) – you should discuss this with your physician and/or your dentist.

There are different ways to treat snoring and/or sleep apnea including positional therapy (sometimes a wedge pillow strapped to your back so you can’t roll onto your back), a CPAP device (positive air pressure through the nose to keep the airway open), or a dental device (to keep the jaw and tongue from falling back). 

Just like exercising and good eating habits are good for the body, quality sleep vital to good health. Just because you get 7-8 hours of sleep doesn’t mean it is good sleep. Don’t hesitate to talk with your doctors about your sleep issues…..and encourage the loud person sleeping next to you to do the same.

Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating snoring, sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have, please email them to him at

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