Sleep Apnea Dentistry is perhaps the fastest growing part of my life. In my career I have always associated with the best dentists in the country. In my travels I have heard one question over and over again “Is a dedicated sleep practice right for me?”. The other question is “How will I know when to make the jump to a sleep only practice?”.
I asked Dr. Willey to write up his journey in sleep medicine, from the early days of training with Dental Sleep Medicine Pioneer and Legend Dr. Ed Spiegel. Dr. Willey let me interview him on his success and that is what he will be speaking on at the American Sleep and Breathing Academy Dental meeting in Scottsdale AZ April 10-11 www.asbadental.com . Being the person Dr. Willey is days later I received a call from him, he said ” David I want to tell a five part history from the being leading up to my lecture in Scottsdale” from the very beginning. He told me he could do it in a five part series on his personal journey, here is part one. Remember at the American Sleep and Breathing Academy Dental meeting in Scottsdale AZ April 10-11 www.asbadental.com he is going to explain how he built the largest dental sleep practice in the United States, 2.5 million a year and 106 appliances in a single month.
If I knew then…
“And what do you do for a living Joe?” “Purchasing agent for recreational pharmaceuticals” he replied with a wink and an unforgettable grin. Joe was a police officer and loved his work, and he never hesitated to share a good story of their newest hit on the streets. I had the privilege of working with Joe’s wife, Sarah, for 22 years, she was a powerhouse assistant and though patients might miss a chance
to see me, they never missed a chance to see Sarah!
I wish I could say she was on top of her game every day, truth is, she wasn’t. She would come in with her hands wrapped around a cup of coffee as though it were her security blanket for the day. And then I would hear the same old same old, “Joe was snoring so bad last night, I hardly got a wink.” Following her comments, someone would always have something to say to make everyone laugh. This went on week after week, year after year.
And then the dreaded phone call came, “Doc, can you come- Joe died in his sleep from an apparent heart attack.” Racing to their home, I arrived and joined the many other mourners. Nothing made sense. Joe was a 40-year-old and in top physical shape. Sure, there were a few thugs who didn’t care for his career – but there was no sign of struggle or foul play. Sarah was never the same, nor I was.
Several years later, I was taking a weekend course on “Sleep Apnea.” And the pieces began to come together, all I could think of was Joe. I begin my search into dental sleep medicine with a determination to learn everything I possibly could and it wasn’t long until I knew that had I known then what I know now, Joe would most likely still be with us. From that moment on, dentistry changed for me. I began seeing my role differently and it wasn’t long until I was weaving sleep appliances in-between general dentistry and I always had a ‘win.’ Using Gergen’s Orthodontic Lab my cases were perfect, and that’s exactly what I was looking for.
I began experiencing a new fulfillment and I wanted more. Several patients that I had done a CBVT and radiologist read on were diagnosed with life threatening situations and their physicians called me to commend the find. Along the way a new group of challenges began to surface. I would look up to see my hygienist tapping her foot in the entrance of a treatment room, reminding me that I was spending too much time with ‘the sleep patient’ and it was sabotaging her schedule. Though being a multi-tasker was a natural for me, I was struggling to keep it all flowing – perio, implants, pros, cosmetics and … Sleep. The sleep patients needed much more time and focus. And I had to choose between changing a life and saving a life. So I chose. In a very short period of time, I sold my dental practice and began a dedicated sleep practice. This is what I found:
- Physicians looked at me differently – I was no longer a dentist to them but a sleep specialist. (Though I could never claim this title)
- In a dedicated sleep practice, I didn’t miss a single OSA or TMD diagnosis because that’s all I did.
- Working within the medical model and accepting medical insurance is challenging but necessary.
- Undiagnosed sleep apnea was all around me, and I realized there are a lot of “Joe’s” that needed my services.