Frequently Asked Questions About Sleep Apnea & Snore Guards

Ever been told you snore like a freight train or been nudged awake for sounding like a bear in hibernation? 

Maybe it’s not just about the snore — there’s a sneaky condition called sleep apnea that might be the real culprit. 

But don’t hit the panic button just yet! 

There’s a little superhero in the world of nighttime nuisances: the snore guard

Think of it as the friendly neighbor who tells noisy parties to quiet down. 

Ready to uncover the mysteries of sleep apnea and how snore guards could be your ticket to silent nights?

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. It can occur hundreds of times a night. Each time your breathing stops, your brain briefly wakes you up to restart your breathing, disrupting your sleep and leaving you feeling tired and exhausted the next day.

The pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and can occur 30 times or more an hour. Normal breathing resumes, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound alarming enough for anyone sharing the bed with you.

What are the 2 Types of Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax while you’re asleep. When these muscles relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in, impeding you from inhaling enough air. Your brain senses your inability to breathe and briefly rouses you from sleep to reopen your airway. This process is usually so brief that you don’t even remember it.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when your brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles that control your breathing. There’s no physical blockage — your brain essentially ‘forgets’ to instruct your body to breathe.

What are the Causes of Sleep Apnea?

The causes of sleep apnea vary based on the type of condition you’re experiencing.

For obstructive sleep apnea, the causes include:

  • Excess weight: Fat deposits around the upper airway may obstruct proper breathing.
  • Neck circumference: People with thicker necks might have narrower airways, leading to OSA.
  • Age: Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea.
  • Family history: A family history of sleep apnea might increase your predisposition.
  • Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers: All these substances relax the muscles in your throat.
  • Smoking: Smokers are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who’ve never smoked.
  • Nasal congestion: If you experience difficulty breathing through your nose — whether it’s from an anatomical problem or allergies — you’re more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.

For central sleep apnea, the causes can include:

  • Heart disorders: A history of congestive heart failure increases your predisposition.
  • Opioid use: Medications such as morphine, codeine, or oxycodone increase the risk of central sleep apnea.
  • Stroke: Having had a stroke increases your risk of central sleep apnea or treatment-emergent central sleep apnea.

What are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

The symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring: The first sign of sleep apnea. It is typically recognized by another person who witnesses the patient while sleeping.
  • Episodes of stopped breathing: These episodes occur when you’re sleeping and are often reported by another person who observes your sleep.
  • Gasping for air during sleep: When you abruptly wake up gasping or choking.
  • Waking up with a dry mouth: Sleep apnea often causes chronic dry mouth and throat due to breathing through the mouth.
  • Morning headache: Waking up with a headache is a common symptom of sleep apnea due to the frequent awakenings and disrupted sleep.
  • Insomnia: Many people with sleep apnea struggle with disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia): The result of frequent sleep interruptions, leading to poor sleep quality and daytime fatigue.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Lack of quality sleep can result in problems with attention and concentration during the day.
  • Irritability: Poor quality sleep causes mood changes, including irritability and even depression.
  • Decreased libido: Patients with sleep apnea may experience a decrease in sexual desire or activity.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Sleep Apnea?

The potential long-term effects of sleep apnea include:

  • Poor cardiovascular health: Sleep apnea causes sudden drops in blood oxygen levels, putting a strain on the cardiovascular system and increasing the risk of heart disease.
  • Hypertension: Each time you wake up during the night, your hormone systems go into overdrive, resulting in higher blood pressure levels and, over time, hypertension.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Sleep apnea increases the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Stroke: Patients with untreated sleep apnea have a higher risk of stroke.
  • Asthma: Emerging research suggests a possible link between sleep apnea and the worsening of asthma symptoms.
  • Acid reflux or GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease): While the relationship between sleep apnea and GERD isn’t completely understood, many patients report a reduction in acid reflux symptoms once sleep apnea is treated.
  • Cognitive and mental health issues: Sleep apnea impacts mental function, leading to memory, mood, concentration, and cognitive function issues. It also contributes to feelings of depression.
  • Liver problems: Sleep apnea increases the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition characterized by the accumulation of fat in the liver.

Is Sleep Apnea Life-Threatening?

Yes, sleep apnea can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Over time, the strain caused by sleep apnea on your cardiovascular system can contribute to a number of serious health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These conditions can significantly impact your quality of life and, in severe cases, can be life-threatening.

Additionally, the condition often leads to excessive daytime sleepiness, which can increase the risk of accidents and injuries. People with sleep apnea are at higher risk of being involved in car accidents due to drowsy driving.

Moreover, the lack of restful sleep can also lead to mood disorders like depression and anxiety, and can impair cognitive function, memory, and concentration.

Is Sleep Apnea a Common Disorder?

Yes, sleep apnea is indeed a common sleep disorder. It affects millions of people worldwide, although many people may not even know they have it.

It’s estimated that between 2% and 9% of adults are affected by obstructive sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

However, the actual number could be higher because sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. People may not recognize the symptoms, especially if they live alone. Also, because the main symptoms occur during sleep, many people might not be aware that they have a problem at all.

Sleep apnea can affect people of all ages, including children. It’s more common in men than in women, and the risk increases with age.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will first ask questions about your sleep habits and overall health. They’ll likely inquire about any family history of sleep apnea and any other health conditions you may have, like hypertension, that can be associated with sleep apnea.

After this initial assessment, your healthcare provider may recommend you to a sleep disorder center, where a sleep specialist can conduct a more detailed evaluation. This often involves an overnight sleep study, also called a polysomnogram.

During this study, you will be hooked up to equipment that monitors your heart, lung, and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep. This data is used to help determine whether or not you have sleep apnea and, if so, how severe it is.

In some cases, a home sleep test might be an option. These tests involve measuring your heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow, and breathing patterns.

You might need further testing if the results are inconclusive. This can include an evaluation of daytime sleepiness, mental alertness, and overall quality of life, or a visit to an ENT specialist to rule out any anatomical blockages.

Can Sleep Apnea Affect My Pregnancy?

Yes, sleep apnea can affect your pregnancy. 

The changes in hormone levels and physical changes occurring during pregnancy can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea. This is especially true during the third trimester. Research shows that sleep apnea affects up to 26% of pregnant women, though it often goes undiagnosed.

Sleep apnea during pregnancy is a concern not just for the mother, but for the baby as well.

For the mother, sleep apnea increases the risk of developing pregnancy complications such as:

  • Gestational diabetes
  • Pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy that can cause damage to organs such as the liver and kidneys)
  • Eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy that can cause life-threatening seizures)

For the baby, maternal sleep apnea can increase the risk of: 

  • Preterm birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Intrauterine growth restriction (poor growth of a baby while in the mother’s womb during pregnancy)
  • The need for neonatal intensive care

Are Sleep Apnea and Tongue Biting Connected?

Yes, there is a possible connection between sleep apnea and tongue biting.

During a sleep apnea episode, the tongue can fall backward due to muscle relaxation, causing a temporary blockage of the airway. As you struggle for breath, the jaw might reflexively clench to reopen the airway. Therefore, you may inadvertently bite your tongue if it stands between your teeth.

Does Sleep Apnea Lead to Jaw Pain?

Yes, sleep apnea can potentially lead to jaw pain. 

The relationship between sleep apnea and jaw pain is often related to a condition called temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). The temporomandibular joint is a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull. It lets you move your jaw up and down and side to side, so you can talk, chew, and yawn.

Sleep apnea and TMJ disorders share some common risk factors and symptoms, and one can exacerbate the other. For example, during episodes of obstructive sleep apnea, you might clench your jaw and grind your teeth (bruxism) as you struggle to unblock the airway. This repeated clenching and grinding places stress on the temporomandibular joint, resulting in pain and discomfort, along with other TMJ symptoms like headaches and difficulty chewing.

Conversely, TMJ disorders can contribute to sleep apnea. A patient with a TMJ disorder might have misaligned jaw bones or issues with the muscles and tendons around the jaw. These problems can restrict the airway, making episodes of obstructive sleep apnea more likely.

What is a Snore Guard?

A snore guard is a type of oral appliance specifically designed to help prevent snoring and alleviate the symptoms of mild to moderate sleep apnea.

When you go to sleep, your muscles relax, including those in your throat. This relaxation may cause the tongue and soft tissues in the back of the throat to collapse, obstructing the airway and resulting in the vibrations we know as snoring, or in worse cases, a temporary cessation of breathing.

The snore guard keeps your jaw in a forward position, maintaining an open airway and reducing the chance of snoring or sleep apnea.

Are Snore Guards Safe?

Yes, snore guards are safe when used correctly.

The most common side effects associated with snore guard use include discomfort, excess salivation or dry mouth, and in some cases, temporary changes to your bite. These usually occur as you’re getting used to the device, and will lessen over time.

Remember to maintain good oral hygiene when using a snore guard, as failing to properly clean the device can potentially lead to oral health problems, such as tooth decay or gum disease.

How Do Snore Guards and Night Guards Differ?

Snore guards and night guards serve different purposes and are used to treat different conditions.

While both snore guards and night guards are used while sleeping, they’re designed to treat different issues. Snore guards address issues with breathing (such as snoring and sleep apnea), while night guards deal with issues related to the teeth and jaw (for example, bruxism).

Can I Swallow My Snore Guard During Sleep?

It’s highly unlikely that you will swallow a snore guard in your sleep.

Snore guards are specially designed to be large enough not to pose a choking hazard. They’re meant to fit snugly in your mouth, covering a significant part of your upper or lower teeth (depending on the design). This makes them pretty sizable, definitely larger than what could be accidentally swallowed.

Additionally, when you’re sleeping, your swallowing reflex is diminished, so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll unintentionally swallow something of that size.

Can I Drink With a Night Guard In?

Night guards are not really made to withstand the act of drinking. When you drink with your night guard in, the liquid can get trapped between the guard and your teeth.

Not only can this be uncomfortable, but it can also lead to potential issues. For instance, if the liquid is anything other than water, such as sugary or acidic drinks, it could lead to tooth decay as the liquid stays in contact with your teeth for an extended period.

If you find yourself thirsty during the night, it’s best to remove your night guard, take a sip of water, and then replace the guard once you’re done. It might seem like a bit of a nuisance, but it’s the safer and more hygienic approach.

How Long Will My Snore Guard Last?

The longevity of your snore guard really hinges on several factors, including: 

  • The quality of the device
  • How well you care for it
  • How heavy a teeth grinder or jaw clencher you are

If you take proper care of your snore guard, it can last anywhere from 6 months to a few years. But, if you’re a heavy grinder or clencher, your snore guard will wear out faster, perhaps even within a few months.

How Can I Keep My Snore Guard Clean?

Keeping your snore guard clean is essential for both its longevity and your oral health. Here are a few steps you can follow to ensure it stays fresh and effective:

  • Rinse it after each use: Always rinse your snore guard thoroughly under cold water as soon as you take it out of your mouth in the morning. This will remove any saliva, plaque or food particles that may have been trapped in it overnight.
  • Use a toothbrush: Use a separate soft-bristle toothbrush (without toothpaste) to gently clean your snore guard.
  • Soak it: You can soak your snore guard in a denture-cleaning solution once a week to remove stains and kill any bacteria.
  • Let it dry: Make sure your snore guard is completely dry before storing it to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Regular checkups: Bring your snore guard with you when you have dental checkups. Your orthodontist can inspect it for wear and tear, and ensure it’s still fitting properly.

How Much Does a Snore Guard Cost?

The cost of a snore guard can vary widely depending on various factors.

If you choose to buy an over-the-counter product, you could spend as little as $20 to $100. These are often “boil-and-bite” devices, which you heat in boiling water and then bite into to create a customized fit. However, their quality and effectiveness can greatly vary.

On the other hand, if you decide to go with a custom-made snore guard from your orthodontist, the price can range anywhere from $300 to $2000 or more. This might seem like a hefty amount, but these custom devices are more comfortable, more durable, and more effective. Also, if your snore guard is a medically necessary device, your health insurance may cover some of its cost.