A trip to the dentist could help treat dangerous sleep apnea

Becky Lang tells Dr. Erika Mason that the dental appliance significantly helped her sleep apnea.

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — More than 18 million Americans have some type of sleep apnea, a potentially deadly condition where you actually stop breathing while you sleep.

Now a trip to the dentist could be what patients need to get better and safer z’s.

Becky Lang’s relationship with sleep has not been an easy one.  She was diagnosed with sleep apnea a couple years ago and was fitted with a full-face mask and CPAP machine.  It was cumbersome to wear while sleeping, and it wasn’t helping her serious condition.

“The doctor told me that I stopped breathing 63 times per minute,” says Lang.

Each time she stopped breathing she lost oxygen and put herself at risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and accidents, which are all consequences of untreated sleep apnea.  Lang knew she needed to try something different, and the solution came at Dr. Erika Mason’s office.

“The oral appliance is small, it’s comfortable, portable,” explains Dr. Mason.  “It holds their jaw from falling back which opens the airwaves so it treats their sleep apnea.”

Sleep apnea dental appliances keep the patient's jaw positioned so that it can't fall back and close the airways.
Sleep apnea dental appliances keep the patient’s jaw positioned so that it can’t fall back and close the airways.

Dr. Mason is a Chesterfield dentist who makes trays for patients to wear during a specialized sleep study called a MATRx test.

“We actually plug into the tray this cable.  The patient puts the set up in their mouth, and remotely the technicians in the control room are able to move the jaw slowly as the patient has apnea and snoring until we get to the point where all those things go away and the patient has normal sleep,”  says Dr. Douglas Puryear, a Pulmonary Critical Care Sleep Specialist.

Dr. Puryear adds that a permanent dental appliance is designed depending on what the MATRx finds.  The patient’s sleep is then monitored to make sure it works.

“After wearing it for a few nights, they tend to adjust pretty easily and they do great,” Dr. Mason describes.  “I have rave reviews.”

Lang gives her dental appliance a rave review.  She says everyone sleeps better at her house now.  Her snoring isn’t keeping up her grandchildren anymore.

“They both indicated that it was much, much better,” she says with a smile.

And those 63 times a minute that she used to stop breathing?  Recent sleep studies have found she is down to about a dozen.  Overall, Lang just feels better now.

“I don’t get up tired in the morning and I don’t take naps in the afternoons, so I am getting a good night’s sleep.”

Dr. Puryear says most often patients don’t even know they have sleep apnea.  It is their family members or friends who pick up on the loud snoring, which is the most obvious sign.  There are treatment options available, and he hopes everyone takes the possibility of sleep apnea seriously.  Leaving it alone can be dangerous.

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