UNDATED (WJRT) -
(06/20/14) - Twenty-two million people in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea.
The most popular treatment doesn't help everyone, especially if the condition isn't severe enough. Some patients are trying a different approach and it's found in their dental office.
Who would have ever thought a trip to the dentist could help you sleep better at night? A dental appliance is doing just that for sleep apnea patients.
Today, 67-year-old Ted Durkee is seeing his dentist - not because of a toothache, but for sleep apnea.
"I always had problems with dozing off in the afternoon in the office and people would joke about that," he said.
Durkee suffered for years - until he finally decided to participate in a home sleep study to evaluate his sleep patterns. The device measured his heart rate, along with blood oxygen levels. The test revealed he had low oxygen levels, which means he has sleep apnea.
"I didn't have to go for two nights at a different location. I could sleep in my own bed," he said.
His doctor prescribed 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 because he has, he's on the mild end of apnea," said Gretchen Zody, dentist and sleep expert.
Zody says 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," she said.
That's because patients push their tongue forward to clear their airway.
Other signs include, "Bruxism, grinding of the teeth, acid reflux also's involved and snoring," Zody said.
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. The bags under my eyes are not as severe as they have been in the past," he said.
"Most insurance companies will cover the treatment if patients can prove they can't tolerate the c-pap. Without insurance, the treatment will cost about $2,500.