You wake up exhausted and struggle to stay awake throughout the day. Your loud snoring often keeps your spouse up all night, and sometimes you wake up gasping for air. These symptoms are often indicative of sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening disorder that affects more than 18 million Americans. “Some studies say that it affects 20 percent of the population, but less than 1 percent has been diagnosed,” says Dr. Kevin Postol. “Without treatment, you have seven years taken off your life and higher risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes.”

With a growing focus on sleep apnea treatment at his Ballwin dental practice, Kevin F. Postol, DDS, Postol offers an effective solution that can make a significant difference. “I get a lot of satisfaction from doing dentistry, but I thought I could do more to change someone’s life,” he says.

Although there are three forms of the sleep disorder, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM) reports that the most common is obstructive sleep apnea, where “tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway, reducing the amount of oxygen delivered to all of your organs.” The disorder’s complications can include cardiovascular difficulties, memory loss, depression and impaired concentration.

While the standard of care is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, the facial mask is often uncomfortable and people may avoid using the machine. “If you give it to 10 people, only six of them are going to wear it,” Postol notes.

Instead, Postol offers an alternative through oral appliance therapy (OAT). After making impressions of a patient’s upper and lower teeth, the dentist makes a removable customized appliance that the patient wears at night to pull his or her lower jaw forward, opening the airway both horizontally and vertically. “This treatment works just as well as the CPAP for those who have mild to moderate sleep apnea, and more people will be willing to use it,” Postol says.

The oral appliance also works for those without sleep apnea, but who have a problem with snoring. “It’s probably 98 percent effective for those who snore,” Postol says.

Postol has been providing the treatment for five years, and 25 percent of his practice is now centered on sleep apnea. He sees eight to 10 new sleep apnea patients every month, and his six staff members help those patients to “understand the need for treatment and the commitment it takes.”

With hundreds of hours of sleep apnea education under his belt, Postol is always striving learn more and share his knowledge with others. He is one of two Missouri diplomats with AADSM, and he will teach a national introductory course later this year. While his practice also offers general, family and cosmetic dentistry, Postol hopes to continue to increase the treatment of this serious, but manageable disorder. “I don’t think enough people know that there’s another treatment option besides CPAP, and they’re endangering themselves,” he says. “We can make a huge difference in their lives.”