My father was a chronic snorer. As a child living at home, I remember hearing his snore all the way down the hall. Back then, we thought it meant that he was getting a good night’s sleep, so it was largely overlooked. Little did I know his snoring was probably a sign of a serious disorder—obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In fact, when I think back about his various health problems, I’m almost certain that sleep apnea was a major contributing factor his untimely death.

Today, instead of ignoring the snore, I have devoted my practice to helping people recognize snoring for what it is—the body’s foghorn signaling trouble ahead.

A person suffering from sleep apnea typically has very shallow breathing or numerous interruptions in their breathing when they sleep. Often, they wake gasping for breath—sometimes hundreds of times a night—only to fall back asleep without ever knowing they were awake. They can even be wakened by their own snoring without realizing they snore. Often, people deny it when someone else tells them, “Your snoring kept me awake all night!”

Typically, the cause of sleep apnea is an obstruction in the airway that prevents a person from getting enough air when they sleep. Over time, oxygen deprivation leads to carbon dioxide buildup in the blood. Sleep-disordered breathing leaves people sleep deprived, and, ultimately, the lack of oxygen in the blood and the lack of proper sleep can lead to chronic—even deadly—illnesses.

The connection between sleep-disordered breathing and chronic illness is well documented. For instance, a study published in 2013 found that people with OSA are more prone to sudden death by cardiac arrest. The people in the study who died had three common predictors: they were age 60 or older, their blood oxygen was below 78 percent (under 90 percent is considered low), and during sleep they had more than 20 episodes of breathing pauses or shallow breathing per hour.

As I said, most people who snore or have disrupted breathing during sleep have to be told by someone else that they have a problem. That’s one reason the snorer goes years without seeking help—they simply don’t realize they have sleep-disordered breathing. Another reason they often deny their problem is because of the social stigma associated with snoring. The snorer may push back against the person reporting the problem to them. Over time, the partner may grow complacent and just accept the snoring; after hearing it for so long, they overlook it and don’t recognize it as a signal to a deeper problem. Even if their own sleep is affected, the spouse or other partner will go years just listening to the snorer deal with night after night of interrupted sleep. For this reason, as many as 35% of married couples sleep in separate rooms.

With all the advances in treating sleep-disordered breathing and sleep apnea through intraoral appliance options, there’s no better time to see a provider who can address the issue. Some dentists, specifically oral physicians, are trained to be major contributors in the field. At The Julian Center for Comprehensive Dentistry, we offer comprehensive solutions that address the body, mind, and spirit. A new therapy, known as NightLase® is now available. It is noninvasive, non-traumatic laser therapy treatment of the soft palate, uvula, and tongue. NightLase® is a long-term (12 – 18 month) treatment that also keeps the airway open during the day. Follow up treatments are recommended after this period.

If you or someone you know snores and has trouble staying awake during the day, don’t wait. That snore is a sign of danger ahead. Find a qualified professional who can help you live a healthier life.