By Deborah Bostock-Kelley

Did you know that you have a greater risk of severe complications from Covid if you suffer from snoring or untreated sleep apnea? 

“When it comes to talking about Covid complications and sleep apnea, there’s a huge correlation,” said Dr. Juliet Bulnes-Newton, founder of Sleep Better Tampa (part of Westchase Esthetic Family Dentistry, a practice she owns and operates with Dr. Laura Goodwin). 

Dr. Juliet Bulnes-Newton, a local sleep expert and American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine (ABDSM) Diplomate, has practiced dentistry for over 20 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.

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.

Through Sleep Better Tampa, adult patients can be fitted with an oral 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 snug to 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,” said Dr. Bulnes-Newton.

If you fear CPAP, which is commonly prescribed for consistent breathing through the night, this safe and affordable FDA-approved option is available at Sleep Better Tampa. 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.

“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 these are directly correlated to sleep apnea. Anything you expect your brain to do, it needs oxygen to do it,” she said.

“We encourage anyone who might be considering a sleep study to follow-through with the testing. When you already have a disorder where you’re not breathing properly, it can be scary. It’s really important to be diagnosed and treated.”

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 daily the causes of sleep apnea.

“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?” Dr. Bulnes-Newton said, “We see a lot anatomically that there could be something going on.”

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, meaning it’s covered by your medical insurance, including Medicare. This is not something that is run through your dental insurance.” 

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.” 

“For the majority of the process, patients don’t really have to leave their house. We’ve minimized visits to our office. If someone needs to be tested, we will facilitate having a sleep test sent directly to their home. They can have everything done from the comfort and safety of their house. They don’t need to go to a physician, a sleep center, or a sleep lab where they could be exposed.” 

During the pandemic, Dr. Bulnes-Newton follows strict CDC and ADA guidelines for office team and patient safety. 

To learn more about the sleep apnea device through Sleep Better Tampa, visit https://sleepapneasolutionstampa.com/ or call 813-60-SLEEP (75337). Westchase Esthetic Family Dentistry is located at 10131 Wilsky Blvd., Tampa.