By Heidi Simmons
It may seem odd that a dentist is concerned about the quality of your sleep. Yet, it is perfectly natural.
There is a new mandate from the American Dental Association (ADA) in the treatment of sleep related breathing disorders, putting dentists at the forefront of diagnosis and treatment.
“There is an epidemic in this country –and around the world– that is not being given the attention it needs,” said Blair Bittner Toohey, D.D.S. of Bittner Dental Clinic in Palm Desert. “Sleep deprivation affects millions. Eighty-five percent of people with poor sleep quality go undiagnosed and untreated, until they are forced to seek medical help for the life-threatening conditions that arise from long term sleep disorders. We are passionate about helping people and reducing that number. The good news is that most sleep disorders can be treated and prevented.”
Dr. Bittner has been practicing dentistry, preventing and resolving sleep disorders for over 20 years, in Palm Desert for three. She uses the latest in laser technology along with other dental techniques to treat patients who snore and or have sleep apnea – a condition where breathing stops during sleep — commonly caused by an obstruction of the airway by the soft palate or tongue during sleep, cutting off the oxygen supply.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), insufficient sleep has been linked to the development and management of a number of chronic diseases and health conditions that include cardiovascular issues, diabetes and depression.
People with sleep apnea are more likely to have other conditions such as hypertension, obesity, congestive heart failure, type 2 diabetes, a stroke, a pacemaker and atrial fibrillation. Memory loss, confusion and auto accidents can also be signs of poor sleep patterns.
Deaths in America related to sleep apnea complications are estimated at 2,000 individuals daily!
Sleep apnea was directly connected in the recent deaths of actress Carrie Fisher and Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia. Scalia was found with the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device on his bedside table not in use!
The CPAP breathing machine is the most common treatment for sleep apnea, which pumps air through a tube to a mask that covers the mouth, nose or both. It has straps that wrap around the head to keep the device in place while sleeping.
“Just as in the case of Judge Scalia, 70 percent of people using a CPAP stop using it between one and four months,” said Dr. Bittner’s husband and biggest fan. “The machine’s shelf-life is four years, they’re expensive, there can be problems with bacteria and infection, and it restricts movement. Mainstream treatment of sleep apnea is a prescription for the CPAP device, or in extreme cases, surgery, which is not always successful. It’s exciting that there is another non-invasive treatment available that can provide immediate results, is safe, painless, eliminates compliancy issues and is easily customized to meet each individual patient’s specific needs.”
With a sense of urgency Toohey asks: “Does it take a death before you make a change?
Dr. Bittner chimes in: “We ask each of our patients; What do your next ten years look like?” Americans never plan on having a stroke, heart attack, or consider the onset of dementia. We make it possible for them to pro-actively plan to prevent these health issues from stealing years from their life.”
Dr. Bittner provides her patients with a health questionnaire update about their sleep quality and habits: How many hours of sleep do you get? Are you refreshed upon waking? Do you snore? Do you grind your teeth? Do you doze off during the day? Does your partner sleep in another room? And so on. An initial “Sleep Survey” can be found on Dr. Bittner’s website: mouthwash365.com
“Our goal is for our patients to be healthy and have their freedom,” said Dr. Bittner. “They don’t have to be attached to a machine or sleep with an appliance forever. Dental health providers are well situated to provide long-term and preventative sleep disorder care. We already see our patients two to four times a year to help them maintain their dental health, so we can easily continue to follow-up, monitor their progress and meet their evolving needs, without incurring additional visits.”
Dr. Bittner’s dental practice is the only office in the Coachella Valley offering the Fotona Nightlase snoring and sleep apnea laser procedures. They offer a free screening program that includes a CBCT scan to visualize and assess individual airways and provide complimentary baseline home sleep study for patients at risk.
“At first some of my patients thought it was odd that we are screening for sleep disorders, but as it is turns out, we have been able to help many of them in a single treatment,” said Dr. Bittner. “It’s not a gimmick or a way to charge more, we are mandated. As a dentist, I need to make sure the dentistry I provide will last, so I have been assessing airway stability, treating and preventing snoring and sleep apnea for twenty plus years, it is inherent to what I do every day.”
Dr. Bittner works with 15 Coachella Valley medical doctors and two local sleep centers.
“There are good medical doctors here in the valley who recognize that many patients need adjuncts and or alternatives to the CPAP,” said Dr. Bittner. “Medical doctors are faced with the burden of treating so many of the morbid conditions caused by sleep apnea they don’t often have time or to address the source itself. It is estimated that 25 percent of Americans suffer from sleep apnea. For every 100 adults in the U.S., only four know they have sleep apnea, while 22 don’t! Bittner Dental Clinic is equipped to make that determination in a single visit, and committed to doing our part in lightening the load on America’s healthcare system.”
Besides her laser treatment for sleep apnea, Dr. Bittner is a pain-free dentist with a family practice that includes general preventive, restorative, cosmetic and laser dentistry, implants, and Invisalign. She has a special interest in seeing that children are screened and properly diagnosed for potential sleep disorders.
“So many kids are being treated for ADD, ADHD or labeled as poor learners when in actuality they’re not getting the proper sleep necessary to be able to function at healthy levels,” said Dr. Bittner. “Sleep apnea is increasingly prevalent in children and should be considered and properly screened before medication is prescribed.”
Born and raised in Northern California, Dr. Bitter is from a family of dentists. Her mother, father and siblings are dentists with a third generation now joining the San Jose, California dental group her parents started.
“I was very fortunate to graduate from dental school and go right into practice,” said Dr. Bittner. “I stepped into my mother’s private practice and worked alongside my father and brother benefiting from all their years of experience. I was encouraged to continue advancing my skills and education. We always had the latest technology and we loved our patients like family.”
When Dr. Bittner’s father retired, her parents moved to La Quinta. When her father had a close call and was in Eisenhower hospital, Dr. Bittner decided to move closer to her parents and purchased her Palm Desert practice.
Dr. Bittner is a quintessential California girl with a big smile and genuine love for the outdoors. Her hot pink paddleboard with bright yellow flowers leans against a wall in the dental office as if she paddles on her lunch hour. And, no doubt she would, if the ocean was closer.
Behind her NorCal girlish ease is a brilliant woman. Dr. Bittner studied biochemistry and graduated from the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry. She is a graduate of the Las Vegas Institute for advance dental studies, where she received much of her specialized training in cosmetics and TMD plus two decades of experience in full mouth reconstruction, was the first general dentist invited to work for Align Technology, Invisalign invisible braces, and is laser and Conscious Sedation Certified, and she is also a member of the DentaCell Accellerator advisory board for Leonhardt’s Launchpads Cal -X Stars Business Accelerator.Inc. to name a few of her professional accomplishments.
Dr. Bittner is also the mother of three children, 20, 21, and 23 from her first marriage. She often takes her adorable little dog Daisy, a petite white Pomeranian, to work with her. After being divorced for 17 years, Dr. Bittner recently married Shawn Toohey.
“We love being a team and share the same goals,” said Dr. Bittner about her husband. “I was raised with my father saying: ‘The family that works together, plays together, stays together!’ My Mom and dad are living proof of that. It’s what I’ve always wanted and I get to do that every day with Shawn.”
Dr. Bittner’s Palm Desert office reflects her California charm with lots of natural sunlight, life-affirming messages and a refreshing trifecta of pinks, whites and greys. It is a welcoming and healing atmosphere.
“I love what I do. I get to give the gift of health every day,” said Dr. Bittner. “We want to increase awareness about sleep disorders and help patients prevent the morbid health conditions they cause. It’s a great feeling to give hope and heal patients who believe their condition could not improve.”
Bittner Dental Clinic is located at 73-071 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760 346 8901. For more information on sleep disorders and to make an appointment visit the website mouthwash365.com