Sleep apnea and the search for a solution through dental-medical collaboration

March 1, 2011
Seventy-seven percent of those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea are undiagnosed. Both the general public and the medical community need to know that FDA-approved oral appliance therapy can be a viable treatment option for sleep apnea when the CPAP is not tolerated.
By Larry TwerskyI have had a very personal experience with sleep apnea. My father was an undiagnosed sufferer. Growing up, I clearly remember him coming home from work and going straight to the couch to sleep instead of playing with my siblings and me. Not having quality time every day is hard on a family. I definitely feel as though I missed out on having a stronger relationship with my father because of this condition. Tooth issues, such as decay, affect only one person, but snoring and sleep apnea affect entire families. Besides health consequences, these conditions can damage marriages, relationships, and work performance. My goal is to educate people about sleep apnea and the options available to get help. Click here to read more articles about sleep disorders.In essence, there are four ways to solve a sleep apnea problem: lose weight, CPAP therapy, surgery, and oral appliance therapy (OAT). For those whose apnea is not weight-related, that leaves CPAP therapy, which many find to be intolerable, or surgery, which is painful and only 50% effective. Unfortunately, most ENT specialists and cardiologists are unfamiliar with the success of OAT in treating sleep apnea; therefore, they only recommend CPAP, leaving many patients without a choice. This is why both the general public and the medical community need to know that oral appliance therapy is FDA-approved and has been proven to be highly effective in cases of mild to moderate and certain cases of severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OAT is the only therapy offered — other than surgery — when CPAP cannot be tolerated.In the beginning, 1-800-Snoring was established within the 1-800-DENTIST company to inform people that OSA is a dangerous disease both physically and emotionally. The company has three distinct goals:
  • To provide patients suffering from sleep apnea access to effective, compassionate, and noninvasive treatment from highly qualified dental sleep medicine providers
  • To provide members with the marketing, education, and support they need to be quality doctors to whom we would want to send our friends and family for treatment
  • To offer a cooperative marketing program so members can benefit from the full potential of our advertisements in their geographic areas

Sleep apnea is a big picture condition, so we search for doctors who are capable of seeing the whole issue and who are willing to work with the medical community to provide a total solution. We offer training and educational opportunities for our members both in-person and over the Web. Our wide range of continuing-education topics help members of the dental and medical communities set up their practices to accommodate snoring and sleep apnea patients, recognize the signs of these conditions in existing patients, and even how to do medical billing. Every member of 1-800-Snoring pays a monthly fee. We use that money to run ads and send out materials that promote sleep apnea treatment such as OAT.

When asked about the educational opportunities he and his staff have taken advantage of with 1-800-Snoring, Dr. Steven Greenman, in Westlake Village, Calif., says, “Once my team and I learned how to identify and talk to the people coming into the office with snoring and OSA problems, I have begun to see dramatic results in both the lives and marriages of the patients I am helping and the profitability of my practice.”

Dr. Eric Johnson, in Torrance, Calif., says, “1-800-Snoring is the best marketing investment we’ve made to date! We’ve used many other mediums such as newspaper, health expos, Internet, but nothing has worked as quickly and as effectively in bringing us new patients as 1-800-Snoring. No doubt about it ... the business model works ... the experts at 1-800-Snoring really know what they’re doing in terms of targeting our audience and bringing us qualified patients. And, the additional staff education and coaching is above and beyond!”

As of today, 77% of those suffering from OSA are undiagnosed. To put that number into perspective, 18,000 of the people who attended this year’s Indy 500 have undiagnosed OSA. That is a staggering number. This condition can lead to fatal health issues such as high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, and diabetes.

Many patients don’t think that their snoring or sleep apnea problem is their problem. Treating snoring and sleep apnea is markedly different than performing standard dental care. In “regular” dentistry, patients call because they are in pain or don’t like something about their teeth. With OSA, patients commonly call in because a spouse or significant other is bugging them ... because someone else is having a problem.

We have to be able to talk to patients who suffer from sleep apnea in a way that makes them understand that the condition is not just annoying to the spouse, but it’s a potentially fatal condition — all without scaring them off. My team and I resolved this issue by adding a more personal touch to how we take phone calls. Our operators ask questions about the patient, find out the nature of his or her condition, and then refer the patient to a provider who would be the best fit. By the end of these types of calls — without dispensing medical advice, yet educating them about their condition and assuring them regarding treatment options — patients will understand that snoring and sleep apnea are dangerous, and that they are doing the right thing by getting help.

I have always found that when you do things exceptionally and for the right reason, the rewards are the greatest and success comes in abundance. Today, it is about getting things exceptionally right.

Larry Twersky is the former president of 1-800-Dentist and the current CEO and founder of 1-800-SleepMed and 1-800-Snoring.