By Deborah Bostock-Kelley

If you or a loved one have difficulty sleeping, snore frequently, still feel tired upon waking, or have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, a safe, nonsurgical treatment is available as an alternative to the often noisy and sometimes expensive CPAP machine. Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that happens when your regular breathing is interrupted during sleep.

Dr. Juliet Bulnes-Newton, a local sleep expert and American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine (ABDSM) Diplomate, has practiced dentistry for over 18 years, with a focus on dental sleep medicine for nearly a decade. She founded Sleep Better Tampa as part of Westchase Esthetic Family Dentistry, a practice she owns and operates with Dr. Laura Goodwin and Dr. Amanda Del Cueto.

Through Sleep Better Tampa, adult patients can be fitted with an oral therapy device that repositions the mouth to increase airflow while sleeping. It gently moves your jaw forward, lifting the palate and preventing your tongue from falling backward. The device keeps your airway open throughout the night, so you continue to get oxygen to properly breathe. It fits snugly against your teeth, so there is no risk of swallowing the device.

“In the simplest of terms, it’s like a mouthguard, but there is so much more to it than that,” Dr. Bulnes-Newton said.

If you fear CPAP, which is commonly prescribed for consistent breathing throughout the night, this safe FDA-approved option may be the answer. Most medical insurance carriers and Medicare cover oral appliances for the treatment of sleep apnea. The device is custom-fabricated and custom-fitted for each patient – no one size fits all. It can be used for sleep apnea and snoring prevention.

Some signs of sleep apnea include difficulty sleeping, insomnia, excessive daytime drowsiness, falling asleep unintentionally during the day, loud snoring at night, waking up at night short of breath, gasping for breath while sleeping, and headaches upon waking because you are not getting enough oxygen to your brain throughout the night. Dr. Bulnes-Newton recommends getting tested for sleep apnea if you are experiencing these symptoms. Her practice also offers the ability to facilitate a home sleep study, sent right to your home.

“Short-term, you wake up with headaches. Long-term, it affects the endocrine system. You are at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, and, for a man, impotence. All of these are directly correlated to sleep apnea. Anything you expect your brain to do, it needs oxygen to do it,” she explained.

Issues with the endocrine system also make it harder for people with sleep apnea to lose weight.

Dr. Bulnes-Newton said, “They can be dieting, exercising, eating right, and providing their body with all the appropriate nutrients, but if their endocrine system isn’t getting enough oxygen, it’s an uphill battle.”

She explained that, as a dentist, she sees the causes of sleep apnea every day.

“We also look at anatomy. Are the patients’ tongues taking up a lot of space? Are we having difficulty looking down their airway? Do they have trouble when we lean them back being able to breathe properly? Do they feel like they are choking even if there is no procedure being performed? We see a lot anatomically that there could be something going on,” Dr. Bulnes-Newton said.

Dr. Bulnes-Newton works hand-in-hand with cardiologists, sleep physicians, pulmonary doctors, primary care physicians, and ENTs to create the best treatment plan for patients.

“I work with the patients that suffer from obstructed sleep apnea who either fail at their CPAP or, for whatever reason, choose not to use it. We’re here for those who seek alternative care to treat their sleep apnea,” she said. “This is a device approved by the FDA as a medically necessary device. This is not something that is run through your dental insurance. We work with all the medical insurances to assure that patient benefits as best possible with their medical insurance companies for this treatment.”

An adjunctive therapy for people with snoring or sleep apnea, positional therapy also helps to prevent patients from sleeping on their backs. 

“When you’re lying on your back, your jaw drops back more, so it cuts off the airway,” Dr. Bulnes-Newton explained.

She relayed the story of a dental patient who fell asleep and began snoring during a procedure. He knew he was supposed to use a CPAP machine but refused. His breathing issue occurred while he was lying on his back. His doctor told him to sew pockets into the back of a tee shirt and put tennis balls into the pockets, so when turned from his side to his back, he would be alerted to turn back to his side. She recommended that he get the oral therapy device. He agreed. Later, without an appointment, the patient came back to the office, stopped in front of the doctor in the hallway, and dropped down on his knees, exclaiming “You saved my life and you have also saved my marriage.” He was no longer sleeping in their spare bedroom.

Dr. Bulnes-Newton said that similar stories of positive results are plentiful.

“Once I heard that I could help out with such a horrible disease, this was definitely a direction that I wanted to learn more about,” she said.

Studies show that, before age 50, more men suffer from obstructed sleep apnea than women. At 50 and beyond, the numbers are equal.

“We tend to see more men that are noticing daytime sleepiness. They want to work better and perform better at the office. They want to have more energy for their families, and they want to stay alive. Let’s be honest, if your brain is not getting oxygen, untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications and a shorter life span.” Dr. Bulnes-Newton said. “When I treat a patient, I know I’m adding an average of eight years to their life.” 

To learn more about the sleep apnea device through Sleep Better Tampa, visit https://sleepapneasolutionstampa.com/ or call 813-60-SLEEP (75337). Sleep Better Tampa is part of Westchase Esthetic Family Dentistry and is located at 10131 Wilsky Blvd. Hours of operation are Monday through Thursday 8 AM – 5 PM and Friday by appointment only.