Sleep apnea a problem? Conway dentist may have solution

If you're not getting enough sleep at night, you could be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. An estimated 18 million Americans have the condition, which causes them to stop breathing temporarily while they sleep.

Phyllis Robertson of Myrtle Beach had it. She says it made her feel tired and absent-minded during the day.

"There's a lot of things that interfere with a lack of sleep and I was just beside myself," Robertson said.

Eventually, Robertson found Dr. Jeff Horowitz, a Conway dentist who practices in the field of dental sleep medicine.

Horowitz says the most common type of sleep apnea is caused by blockage of a person's airway at night.

"That's where the soft tissues of the palate and the tongue collapse during the night, essentially blocking the airway and they don't allow the patient to breathe effectively," he said.

Using a method called Acoustic Pharyngometry, Horowitz can observe the size of a patient's airway at different jaw positions.

From there, a dental appliance is made for the patient to wear over his or her teeth at night, to push the jaw forward, open up the airway and cure the sleep apnea.

The appliance works for Phyllis Robertson.

"I was able to have a comfortable sleep and enjoy life again somewhat," she said.

"She actually was having 31 apnea episodes every single hour during sleep and with the dental appliance, we've got that down to four, which is within the normal range," added Horowitz.

He says the dental appliance can be an alternative to the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP therapy that some sleep apnea patients can't tolerate.

Horowitz says obstructive sleep apnea is often under-diagnosed and can contribute to health problems ranging from acid reflux to heart attacks and even dementia.

"There are so many conditions that maybe we don't always look at sleep apnea as a possible cause."

Horowitz says the dental appliance was first promoted as a cure for snoring, but researchers soon found it could solve a bigger problem.