The Healthy Sleep Revolution: Helping our patients and practices breathe better and get healthy

March 6, 2020

Having a clear sense of purpose lets us focus all our efforts on what matters most. This is what compels us to pursue and persist regardless of what the odds are or the obstacles we face.

Purpose fuels passion

“He who has a Why can endure any How.” -Frederick Nietzsche

It was this Why, this passion for answers that led me on my path of learning and discovery for treatment options and solutions for sleep apnea and sleep-disordered breathing.

You see, my WHY started with losing my father-in-law in his early fifties and not wanting the same fate for my husband. He was a seemingly healthy individual-he walked three miles every morning, meditated, and ate a balanced diet. He did not smoke or drink alcohol either. So needless to say, we were devastated when we lost him suddenly and without any warning.

As we were headed home from the funeral, my husband seemed unfazed and almost resigned to the fact that he had lost his father at such a young age. Upon asking more questions, it turned out that almost all the men in his family had died young. He had “accepted” that family genetics was the cause. I, on the other hand, refused to accept that explanation and decided to dig deeper. What I learned from speaking with his doctors was that sleep apnea had probably played a big role in causing the inflammation and damage that had led to us losing a valuable member of our family.

This is what lead me down the rabbit hole of sleep apnea in adults. As I educated myself and learned all I could from everyone willing to speak with me and teach me, it dawned on me that my story and that of my family was not unique. There are hundreds of thousands of loved ones suffering the same fate and that I, as a dentist, could actually help.

It started with educating my team first-leading them to understand why this is important, teaching them the science behind treating sleep disorders in our patients, and how we can truly save lives. Treating sleep apnea in the dental practice is a team- based service.

Imagine the power of eight people in one office talking about this with every single patient as opposed to just one.

And it started with just asking every single patient this one question “How are you sleeping?”

We then incorporated questions about sleep apnea and snoring and CPAP use into our Medical History intake form.

The common signs and symptoms of an adult suffering from sleep apnea are snoring, choking or gasping for breath, frequent nighttime urination, daytime drowsiness, fatigue, high blood pressure, and clenching or grinding their teeth. Connecting these dots for our patients really opened their eyes as well as ours as to how much healthy sleep can help them live healthier lives.

That soon evolved to networking with our local MDs, Sleep MD’s, Cardiologists, Neurologists, and ENTs to form a tribe to help all our patients. Speaking with our patients, we quickly learned that many of them had a CPAP and were aware of the health implications of their snoring and sleep apnea. Yet not everyone was able to tolerate the CPAP, which we know is the gold standard for treating sleep apnea. They were hoping to find an alternative solution and didn’t know that their dentist could help by making them a custom oral appliance which would move the lower jaw forward and thus help open the airway.

Incorporating this into my practice infused new life into my team and we all saw the impact we were having and lives we were changing.

But as this “family” of people I wanted to help grew, I quickly came to the realization that if I could treat kids suffering from sleep apnea, I would not have to treat them as adults. Nor would they have to grow up suffering from the effects of sleep-disordered breathing.

And the little girl leading this movement for me on a personal level was Avery. Avery is the seven-year-old daughter of my office manager, Christina.

When we identified the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea in her, followed by a diagnosis, it lit a fire in me to push for solutions.

Children that suffer from sleep disordered breathing (SDB) present very differently than adults. Sleep-disordered breathing can lead to reduced oxygen reaching the brain, and some common symptoms in children include snoring, mouth breathing, bed wetting, ADHD, night terrors, and frequent ear infections, among others.

So many parents go from doctor to doctor seeking answers, looking for someone to help connect the dots.

As dentists, we are in the unique position of being able to do just that. In kids, we are able to utilize a plethora of options and create a custom plan for each child utilizing different stages of their growth to actually grow their airway into something that is conducive for their development.

The first line of treatment for a kid suffering from SDB is a tonsil evaluation with an ENT. If this is contributing to the obstruction which is leading to lack of oxygen, we find that these kids start to feel better right away. Other options to evaluate and treat these kids could range from releasing tongue ties, to palatal expansion, or Myofunctional Therapy. There is no one size fits all, especially in kids. Figuring out what each child needs and modifying it as they grow while watching them grow to their best potential is what makes this so rewarding.

The benefits of recognizing and addressing these issues in kids early is priceless. Be it through appliances or other therapeutic options, we see these kids bloom-from better grades, to no more bed wetting (in older kids) to increased self-confidence. These are the days that make us WANT to go to the office, because this is when we can truly see how we can impact the lives of these kids and their families.

And it is this burning passion, this quest for answers that led me to develop my own design for a patented dental appliance for kids that’s designed to do just that-help them breathe and sleep better while growing and developing their airway so their brains can keep up with their bodies.

Knowing our WHY is, I believe, the first step in figuring out HOW to achieve the goals that excite us and create a life that we enjoy living (versus merely surviving). Only when we know our ‘WHY’ do we find the courage needed to take the risks, stay motivated when the chips are down, and move life onto an entirely new, more challenging, and more rewarding chapter.

Knowing our purpose compels us to take on challenges that stretch us as well as inspire us.

And as I always say, there is little we cannot do when we are powered by a clear purpose.