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A Sleep Patient Speaks

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News

What follows is a true account of my sleep apnea patient journey.

Full disclosure. I’m the director of marketing for IAOS, a dental consulting company that focuses on continuing education for dentists, specifically around dental sleep medicine, aka the dental treatment of sleep disorders.

Did you know that dentists work with sleep patients?

I certainly didn’t before I started working for IAOS.

And even at the outset, I fell into the common misconception that because I’m not a carbon copy of John Candy…

I couldn’t possibly have sleep apnea!

So since this whole article is about the patient experience in dental sleep medicine, you’re probably asking…

Why did this guy decide to get screened for sleep apnea?

Maybe it’s a marketing ploy? I hear you. I’ve often looked at patient testimonials as basically fluff. Marketing fodder at best in the pharma space, for instance. While there is an absolutely marketing element to anything published on the internet, I’ll be frank with you.

I’m a born skeptic. For me, believing is seeing, and not the other way around. Here’s the really juicy version of the story, if you’re willing to read on, you will see.

An Unexpected Health Crisis (and lots of snoring)

I was coming up on a year with the company. 

After several live events, meeting dentists, seeing the inside walls of their practices and tuning into their stories, I was pretty impressed by the level of care and passion in the room.

If you’ve ever been hustled through a doctor’s visit, you know how it feels to be seen as a walking $$$ dollar sign.

These people were different.

At one particular event, someone got me ruminating on being proactive about screenings and preventative healthcare: a doctor and a dental hygienist – two sisters who lost both of their parents prematurely due to preventable health problems, sleep apnea being among the biggest offenders – and if they’d been properly screened, things could have been different. It got me thinking about my own family history. 

My paternal grandfather died unexpectedly at age 48 (massive cardiac event) – could he have been living with untreated OSA?  My father has obstructive sleep apnea, and we share a lot of genetic similarities, so when my own health took a turn for the worse, I decided it was time to take some action.

April and May of 2023 spelled a second wave of COVID for me, followed by a mysterious dietary issue that landed me in the hospital twice within a matter of weeks. I felt like I was on the ropes, and I was feeling scared.

As I searched for answers, I started to consider what my “real” symptoms were on a daily basis. We’re talking baseline issues that could easily be rolled up into a word – lifestyle.

Now, the pieces of the puzzle started to align:

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Loud snoring (sorry family!)
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Yawning – all day, every day

And the list goes on…

So I began treating my issues with a radical diet shift, and it worked.

Almost.

I stopped having the dietary side effects that landed me in the hospital, but the new diet did nothing to combat the snoring or my energy level problems.

Why did this guy start his journey talking to a sleep dentist? Why not just go to a sleep clinic?

When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That is my impression of healthcare. If there’s no binary solution, oh well. I am officially “done” with the mainstream.

So I decided to pursue an alternate path.

I spoke to one of the IAOS coaches and got connected with a member in my area.

The office visit was anything but rushed. The doctor and the staff spent a considerable amount of time with me – asking questions, educating me, and making sure everything was clear. They spoke to me on the phone and answered a lot of questions, then we scheduled an office visit. I was given a physical exam to measure my neck, airway, and jaw movements. I did a preliminary home sleep test to see if apneas were occurring.

After I sent the test back, I waited for a few days. The sleep expert called me up and shared that it’s very likely that I had a moderate case of sleep apnea – with a dip in blood oxygen all the way down to 75% and an AHI of 18.8. Not something to celebrate.

Getting that news confirmed that I did the right thing. 

If I am a “ticking timebomb” for a cardiac event, I want to do whatever it takes to add length to that fuse – and hopefully defuse it altogether.

What Happened After That?

I was referred to a local ENT specialist who treats sleep apnea. We spoke about my initial screening with the sleep dentist. He shared with me some treatment options on a spectrum from the oral appliance option as the least invasive option to CPAP to invasive surgical interventions. Based on my age, body composition, and the data we discussed above, he agreed that the oral appliance route would be the ideal first round of treatment for my sleep apnea.

My claustrophobia would not take a CPAP. I could barely go for the OTC Amazon.com appliance I ordered to get a feeling for what the Prosomnus device would be like. Luckily, I was about to be blown away by how comfortable the custom option would be!

Lasting Impressions

Boy, was it worth it. Sure, I’ve got a few payments to make on my new mouthguard – it’s definitely not a cheap solution.

But in terms of comfort, I was absolutely blown away. The custom-fitted device made thanks to the expert setting of my dental impressions in the office feels very natural.

My device isn’t some big piece of plastic in my mouth – it’s really small, and it’s actually two retainer pieces. One upper and one lower.

A month into wearing my device, I’ve seen changes in my energy and physiology – I’m waking up without a strong desire to hit the snooze button. I’m not reaching for a 3rd cup of coffee at 10 am to make it through an already hazy morning. I’m not sleeping 9 hours and waking up like a zombie.

2-3 months into the journey, I notice that my overall quality of sleep and life, in general, are honestly better than ever. A night without my device feels like waking up hungover vs. a normal night sleeping with my device, which has become my new normal. I really can’t believe how much different my well-being is today vs. 6 months ago. It’s like I got a new lease on life.

The members in IAOS told me to get checked out, and let’s face it, getting this therapy is going to add years to my lifespan. I could never put a price tag on that.

If you’re reading this and you’re a dentist and you like the sound of this kind of work, you really should consider attending one of our courses on sleep. As a non-medical member of the team, I can say that the things I’ve witnessed from my vantage point have been nothing short of amazing!

Further Reading