The Long Road to Diagnosis: A Dentist’s Journey with Undiagnosed Breathing Difficulties and the Surprising Solution

After her diagnosis of moderate obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea, Margaret Meadows, DDS, tried the REMplenish water bottle. The improvement in her tongue and neck muscles in a short time resulted in a 90% reduction in her snoring. Read about her aha moment here.

by Margaret Meadows, DDS

In a world where everyone tells you that you’re fine, but deep down, you know something is wrong, it becomes essential to trust your instincts and be persistent in seeking answers. This was precisely the case for me as I embarked on a vigilant and resolute path of self-discovery and self-advocacy for my health.

In 2019, while out on my usual bike ride, I had trouble fully expanding my chest. When I told my Primary Care doctor, they listened to my deep breaths and took a chest X-ray but found nothing unusual.

One year later, I decided to tell my Rheumatologist. More tests, including another chest X-ray and a visit to a cardiologist, who told me that I had the “heart of a 25-year-old.” They said no more tests were needed, and I was left feeling unsure about my health once again. Despite their reassurances, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.

To ease my worries, I started taking weekly readings of my O2 saturation levels, which ranged from 88% to only occasionally reaching 92%. Even though my ability to walk, play tennis, and do other moderate exercise was not affected, I still couldn’t help but worry about my health.

Despite my breathing difficulty, I tried to remain optimistic and blamed it on the numerous medications I was taking for Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR), an autoimmune disease that affects tendons, muscles, and joints. It crossed my mind that the steroids or medicines prescribed to me could be affecting my ability to expand my lungs.

My health started declining more quickly, including peripheral neuropathy in my feet and eye muscles. Sometimes, my eye movements made me feel narcoleptic, which was not ideal for my career as a dentist. An ophthalmologist and a neurologist both told me these issues were “just a normal part of aging, related to menopause, or may just be hormonal.”

Looking back, I realized that my health decline was not sudden, but rather a gradual trajectory that may have started when I was 14 years old. I remembered gasping for air, but thought then it was just due to stress.

A decade later, while in dental school, I noticed tori bilaterally on my mandible and maxilla. I promptly made myself a mouthguard, which I have worn for most of my life. No one connected oral conditions with sleep apnea back then.

It wasn’t until 33 years later, after 22 years of marriage, that my husband started noticing that I snored every night. By chance, I was going to a dental sleep conference and decided to have my first sleep test done. To my not-so-surprised discovery, I had an AHI of 15 and was diagnosed with moderate obstructive sleep apnea and central sleepapnea.

An Orofacial Myologist speaker talked about oral muscle exercises and their positive impact on the airway. We were also introduced to the REMplenish™ water bottle and nozzle, which had the potential to tighten up our tongue and neck muscles. It was also suggested that it could help tongue-tied patients learn how to suction correctly and aid in speech correction.

While waiting for my dental orthotic sleep device, I started using REMplenish daily and noticed an improvement in my neck muscles and sleep patterns. My snoring decreased by 90% after 1 week of use, and my average O2 levels improved from 88%-92% to 94% within 2-3 weeks. Within 4 weeks, my “turkey neck” was visibly reduced – I had been using a workout I read in a book for 8 months with no results! Despite coexisting issues, my cognitive alertness improved, I stopped waking up to use the bathroom, and my peripheral neuropathy completely resolved.

At 8 weeks of regular use, I experienced improved sleep quality, no snoring, good O2 sats, and increased cognitive alertness. When I experimented by stopping its use for 4-5 days, I noticed a decline in sleep quality, a dip in my O2 saturation levels, and reduced alertness. I realized that the benefits of using the straw were quickly lost.

It seems consistency is key to achieving the full benefits of REMplenish. Like any exercise routine, it must be sustained to produce results. Personally, I find it to be an effective “kick starter” in my health improvement journey, particularly in keeping my neck muscles taut and my airway open, resulting in better oxygen saturation levels – something my doctors never thought possible. Although I initially thought the device was intended for “others” with speech therapy or tongue tie issues, I now see it as a valuable partner in my own health and wellness.

Personal use and insight can be a powerful tool in promoting treatment plans. Demonstrating a willingness to undertake the same treatments recommended to patients can help build trust and credibility. I have always been an advocate of this approach, having been both my first night guard and clear aligner patient. While I have treated patients with sleep appliances for years, my own experience with a sleep device has given me invaluable insights that I hope to leverage in treating even more patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea.

In the end, it took me four decades to have my “ah ha” moment, but I am glad that I finally have some answers to my health concerns. As a result, I have been recommending the REMplenish straw to every patient who mentions snoring or exhibits a Modified Mallampati score of 2-3 or a Friedman score of 2-3. So far, every single patient who has used it has described it as a “miracle” that effectively eliminates their snoring. Many have noticed a decrease in tongue size, which we know contributes to improved overall breathing. Just like my experience, if they stop using the straw, the snoring returns. This serves as clinical evidence that the straw exercise is the crucial factor in addressing snoring, and like any exercise, it needs to be practiced daily.

Now that I understand firsthand the benefits of treating OSA, I am eager to continue sharing my experience and what I’ve seen in fellow patients. By modeling the personal approach that my patients have come to expect, I am confident that I can promote effective treatment plans and improve outcomes. I’m excited to continue working out my neck muscles with REMplenish every day and sharing my experience with friends, family, and patients!

Tongue and muscle function, like that addressed by the REMplenish water bottle, is also a focus of orofacial myofunctional therapy. Find out more about the benefits of adding myofunctional therapy to your practice here: https://dentalsleeppractice.com/ce-articles/why-every-dentist-and-orthodontist-should-have-an-orofacial-myofunctional-therapist-on-their-team/

Dr. Margaret Meadows graduated UCLA Dental School in 1989. She was in private practice in Coronado California for 30 years. She integrated Sleep Dentistry into her private practice in 2016. She recently made a move to Ohio and is practicing with Magnolia Dental Group (with 10 offices) in Columbus. Dr. Meadows completed the AADSM Mastery program in 2023 inspired by her personal heath journey, specifically her diagnosis last year of Sleep Apnea.

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