How we sleep may tell our doctors and dentists more about our health that we could have ever imagined.You could be among the 12 million Americans suffering from a serious form of sleep apnea called obstructive sleep disorder.
Many people, like Jerry Scott, 56, did not have a clue that what he was feeling during the day was linked to how he was sleeping at night.
"It never even occurred to me that I had sleep apnea," says Jerry Scott who suffered from obstructive sleep apnea.
While those who snore, or grind their teeth, called bruxism, are often made fun of, experts say untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health issues like, high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, irregular heartbeats, heart attack, diabetes, depression, worsening of ADHD. New data is showing even Alzheimer's.
So Jerry's visit to the dental chair six months ago may have saved his life.Dr. Daniel Klauer, who did a mini residency in dental sleep, uses a checklist of health questions, including questions about sleep in his routine dental exam.
"We see a lot of patients who are suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Narcolepsy, and sleep related bruxism. Usually people who snore it's a telltale sign of a sleep disorder, breathing and that's the kid of stuff we use to send them off to a physician to get diagnosed," says Dr. Klauer.
That's exactly what Dr. Klauer did with Jerry. He sent Jerry to see his doctor who recommended a sleep study, which found that Jerry had severe obstructive sleep apnea.
"I was going to an internist to have blood work done, I knew I was abnormally fatigued, I mean I felt like I could fall asleep at the wheel driving to work in the morning," says Jerry.
While Dr. Klauer says a CPAP machine, a mask that provides respiratory ventilation through a mask while people sleep, is still the gold standard, the use of dental appliances are slowly making inroads, especially for someone like Jerry who could not tolerate wearing a mask.
"There's over 100 different dental devices we can use for sleep apnea or snoring," says Dr. Klauer.
If a doctor determines the dental implant will work just as well as a CPAP machine, Dr. Klauer will do a comprehensive exam, including 3D imaging, to make sure the patient will benefit from a dental device.
"It's like a miracle. I mean I feel 20 years younger, I have no fatigue, I concentrate better, It's absolutely a miracle and may have saved my life in the long fun," says Jerry.
If you're one of those people who can never remember a dream, you may too have a sleep disorder that is prevented you from getting the all important REM sleep.
"I had forgotten what it was like to dream and now I have long, involved, rich detailed dreams," says Jerry.
Dr. Klauer stresses the diagnosis and recommendation must come first from a sleep study, and because sleep disorders are medical problems, most insurance plans do cover the costs.(Information courtesy NBC News)