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Snore No More – A dentist’s mission to help people get a good night’s sleep

As many as one out of three Americans suffers from a sleep disorder. Twenty million of us have been diagnosed with one, and there may be as many as 50 million additional undiagnosed cases. Although sleep disorders can happen in children as young as two, it mainly afflicts adults and usually progresses as we age. It’s obvious that poor sleep results in fatigue and tiredness, but it also can lead to serious secondary issues including coronary problems, hypertension and risk of stroke, weight gain, diabetes, and even memory disorders. And it can cause issues with a bed partner: People who share a bed with someone with a sleep disorder lose an average of 67 minutes of sleep per night.

Dr. Frederic Hyman is out to change all that. He and his wife, Robin, arrived in the Berkshires in 1984 after they saw an advertisement for a dental practice that was for sale in Great Barrington. Although they had never been to the area, they bought the practice and have been here ever since, raising a daughter who is now grown.

“Part of the reason we chose the Berkshires, in addition to its beauty, is that it’s a warm and inviting place for health professionals,” says Hyman. “There’s little competition among health professionals here, compared to other places. Health professionals in the Berkshires are all here to help each other.”

Through the years of practicing here, Hyman became increasingly aware of problems associated with dental health, especially those related to facial and jaw pain and sleep disorders. With his wife, who is also his dental and laboratory assistant, Hyman began to broaden his business to include treatment of these concerns. Last year, he disbanded his general practice to focus on sleep disorders and jaw pain. Now, as the only person in Berkshire County certified to treat sleep and jaw issues, his clientele comes from all over New England and New York.

“The Berkshires have always been known as a health and wellness community, and I see myself as a resource within that community,” says Hyman. “I think of my job as educating the public on the importance of sleep and of helping people improve their sleep.”

He does this by meeting with patients who have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder and who have been referred to him by their doctors. Medical treatment of people with sleep disorders (most commonly sleep apnea, which most of us call snoring) usually begins with the use of a CPAP (Constant Positive Airway Pressure) device. The CPAP—which pumps air into a person’s nose and mouth and keeps the airway open—works for many people. But for many others, it doesn’t, either because people find it uncomfortable or can’t get the device to work correctly. It is at that point that they are referred to Hyman for an oral appliance. “Part of what’s important about the oral appliance,” Hyman says, “is that it gives people who can’t use the CPAP a second option.”

The oral appliance does not look very different from the retainers many of us wore when we had braces. It works by pulling the lower jaw forward in a way that stabilizes the jaw and forces the airway to stay open during sleep. In the initial consultation with a patient, an impression is made and the appliance is created in a lab. After the first fitting, the patient returns to have the device calibrated for maximum effectiveness. Even if the patient feels better and experiences “subjective improvement,” a follow-up sleep test is not uncommon. The cost of oral appliance is often covered by health insurance or Medicare.

Anyone who is interested in knowing more about getting better sleep should start by consulting their physician. Poor sleep is often the result of a sleep disorder, but there can be other causes as well, including insomnia, depression, anxiety, narcolepsy, and other disorders that would not best be remedied by a CPAP or oral appliance. If a physician believes there is a sleep disorder, they will most likely prescribe a sleep test, which is performed at a hospital, sleep center, or with equipment a patient is sent home with.

Kathleen Fletcher, of Adams, is one of Hyman’s success stories. “I went to him in tears,” says Fletcher, after having suffered from years of poor sleep, jaw pain, and fatigue. She tried a CPAP machine for seven months without success and then was referred by her physician to Hyman. After a thorough evaluation and sleep test, he fitted Kathy with an oral appliance.

“Now I sleep through the night, wake up refreshed,” she says, “and the pain is gone.”

For more information, visit berkshiretmjcenter.com.




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