Ask The Dentist is a series of columns written by Dr. Mady to answer your questions about dentistry and oral health!
Dear Dr. Mady: I have been married for eleven years and it seems like every day my husband’s snoring gets worse. It seems like he even stops breathing sometimes, then snores loud again. I have to sleep with earplugs most of the time. Can anything be done and this snoring masking another problem? - Anne in Newark, N.J.
Dear Anne: Many people “saw logs” in their sleep. As a matter of fact, in the not too distant past, I did myself, but I don’t anymore. Snoring is a very common problem amongst most of the population. What most individuals do not realize is that an underlying problem may exist and if ignored, it can lead to dramatic problems. Others just snore away and drive their spouses and families insane, and if they gain weight, the situation worsens. As a matter of fact, with all the crazy reasons you hear today for divorce, I am surprised I haven’t heard of snoring as one of them.
When taking a medical and dental history, I always ask patients if they snore. If they give a positive response, then I first try to determine what the cause may be. For example, smoking can exaggerate snoring by increasing mucous production and irritating the oral-pharynx area.
Anything that causes the airway muscles to relax or enlarge (including weight gain) can cause snoring.
Examples of things that cause airway relaxation are: head and neck position during sleeping, alcohol consumption, sleeping pills, and even cold medicines that contain antihistamines. If you sleep with your head too elevated and your head is pushed forward, this position can cause airway closure, thus making it more difficult to get air in. With respect to gaining weight, remember that when you gain weight, you don’t just gain it in your body but also usually in your face, neck and palate. The same goes for weight loss. People who wear dentures almost always experience looser dentures when they lose even as little as five or ten pounds.
The structure of your airflow system may increase snoring if any one part is injured, modified or abnormally formed. These structures include the nose and septum, adenoids or tonsils, and the uvula. A previous broken nose will almost always affect airflow if not treated properly and even if action is taken immediately, problems may still occur. Enlarged or inflamed tonsils can be a contributor, and as you know, it is not routine anymore to have them removed. The uvula is that floppy, tail-like piece of tissue that hangs at the end of your soft palate at the entrance to your throat. Some people naturally have a very large one that automatically inhibits airflow. This can be surgically removed if necessary.
From my clinical experience, I have found the most common cause of snoring to be weight gain, and therefore the best remedy to be weight loss.
If merely a few pounds are lost, it could decrease or even stop the snoring. You would be amazed at how much one’s airways will open from this. Consult your physician about a proper diet and exercise program and be committed to it.