Richard Shoenfeld has sleep apnea. His wife, Carol, has endured his snoring for most of their 23-year marriage. "She'd sort of punch me. Or kick me and say wake up. She'd shake me," says Richard.
Sleep apnea is often described as crescendo snoring. It starts off light and gets louder and louder. Then there's a characteristic choke, and a gasp of air. Richard's wife says it's unnerving. "It scared me and then I would listen for that so I didn't sleep," says Carol.
Sleep apnea puts you at higher risk for high blood pressure, stroke and heart failure. The traditional treatment has been the use of a cumbersome and restrictive machine called c-pap. With the machine, you can't roll over and have to sleep mostly on your back.
Now, Richard uses an alternative oral device called the Thornton Adjustable Positioner, or TAP. It's like having two sports guards in the mouth, one on the upper and one on the lower teeth. He connects the two using a metal hook. A key turns the jaw into position to hold the airway open. Adjustments with the key no longer need to be made when the snoring stops.
"It's the most wonderful thing I've ever had happen because it's opened up my air passage and I can sleep on my back. I can sleep on my side," says Richard. Carol says she gets to sleep all night, and so does Richard. It's also lowered his blood pressure, yet another reason for the Shoenfelds to rest easier.
The oral device is custom-made for each patient and costs anywhere from $1,400 to $1,800. It's often covered by insurance. The device can cause some minor jaw discomfort but that usually goes away over time and with regular jaw exercises.