LEMOYNE, Pa. (WHTM) — A Cumberland County dentist is working to raise awareness about a sleep disorder treatment that’s gaining traction across the country.
Dr. Becky Fox is one of about just 30 doctors across the state who offer what’s called oral appliances to treat sleep apnea.
Her patients say the technology gave them back their lives.
“Once they diagnosed me with sleep apnea, that grounded me,” Rand Wickham said, who lives in Etters.
It grounded Wickham from flying, something he’d been doing since he was 17.
The commercial pilot had his medical clearance taken away after being diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Traditional treatments didn’t work, but an oral appliance did.
Wickham’s snoring and fatigue went out the window, and his oral appliance became the first thing in his suitcase.
“It pushes your jaw out to keep you from having your tongue go back and close the airway, which is what causes the apneas,” Wickham said.
“The jaw can’t drop back any further than where we set the appliance,” Dr. Fox said, who practices in Lemoyne.
Dr. Fox says when you hear about sleep apnea, you often think of surgery or CPAP, which blows a stream of air down your throat.
But custom-made oral appliances are becoming a popular alternative.
“They are covered by your medical insurance, not dental insurance,” Dr. Fox said.
Experts estimate more than 22 million Americans have sleep apnea, but 80% of moderate or severe cases go undiagnosed.
If left untreated, the disorder can have serious effects.
“It can lead to heart disease, obesity, stroke. they’re even linking it now to Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Fox said.
“I wasn’t sleeping,” Linda Caton said, a Carlisle resident. “I also was having some heart palpitations.”
Caton is a member of sleep apnea’s most misdiagnosed population: middle-aged women.
She says overnight, an oral appliance changed everything.
“I was really surprised at immediately how much better I sleep, how much better I could breathe at night,” Caton said.
As for Wickham, he’s able to prove he’s eligible to fly because the appliance has a chip that stores data and shows treatment is working.
“It kept me flying and doing what I love to do,” Wickham said.
Dr. Fox tells us a soldier who couldn’t use CPAP because he was deployed in remote areas without electricity also benefitted from an oral appliance.
Since there are a limited number of dentists certified to treat using the devices, the American Board of Sleep Medicine has an online search tool to help patients find a provider nearby.