Ted Durkee is seeing his dentist. The 67-year-old doesn't have a toothache, he has sleep apnea.
"I always had problems with dozing off in the afternoon in the office, and people would joke about that," said Durkee.
Durkee suffered for years, until he finally decided to participate in a home sleep study. Tests revealed Durkee had low oxygen levels, which lead to his diagnosis of sleep apnea.
Experts say 22-million people in the United States suffer from sleep apnea. The most popular treatment is known as continuous positive airflow pressure - also called C-PAP. But if the condition is not severe enough, C-PAP may not be the best option. Some patients are trying a different approach that's found in their dentist's office.
That's what Durkee's doctor prescribed. It's called oral appliance therapy, or OAT. It's a mouth appliance that moves Durkee's jaw forward to help him breathe easier while sleeping.
"Mr. Durkee was the ideal patient," said Dr. Gretchen Zody, Durkee's dentist. "He's on the mild end of apnea."
Zody said she can see signs of sleep apnea just by looking in her patients' mouths.
"Their tongue can be scalloped along the edges, so you can actually see the indentations of the teeth," said Zody.
That's because patients push their tongue forward to clear their airway.
Other possible signs include grinding of the teeth, acid reflux or snoring.
OAT is only for mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea. Patients who are missing several teeth are not good candidates for the treatment, because the appliance must hook onto a solid row of teeth.
Without insurance, the OAT device will cost about $2,500. Some insurance companies will cover the treatment, but generally only after patients prove they cannot tolerate the C-PAP.
It took a few weeks for Durkee to notice a difference, but he says now his oxygen levels are back to normal, and he hasn't experienced any side effects.
"I have a lot more energy," Durkee said. "The bags under my eyes are not as severe as they have been in the past."
To learn more about OAT, go to:
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