Posted on 12/17/2018 by Foundation for Airway Health
I never knew I had an "airway health" issue. I never even heard of airway health. What I knew was that I was "hypothyroid." I knew that my heart was racing crazily off and on for 40 years. My life was exciting in many ways, but I didn't have the energy to fully enjoy it. I knew that exhaustion was my constant companion. I knew my mother had similar issues, that her world was small and limiting. I knew my 24-year old son had similar issues and that fatigue was something we just assumed was average in our family.
When I arrived in a new dentist's office, I thought it would be the usual routine. My girlfriend just referred me because she liked her dentist. Then the dentist started asking me these questions that didn't seem to have anything to do with my teeth:
Was I tired all the time?
Did I ever gasp for breath?
Did I snore?
I'm 61. I have had several careers. I'm retired from banking and I've done philanthropic work. I forced myself to stay engaged, but there was always this deep fatigue that no one could explain. So when this new dentist suggested that I (and my other family members) had jaws that were just "set wrong" for breathing, I was primed by years of exhaustion to pay attention to him.
Dr. Hindin kept asking questions to which all of the answers were "yes": "Are you tired after a good night's sleep? Does your brain feel foggy?" "Yes, yes, yes." He said there was a good chance that even my thyroid condition related to faulty breathing given the position of my jaw and tongue. I wish someone had asked me these questions decades before. I was treated for my hypothyroid, but even medicated, I was tired all the time. I offered no resistance when he suggested an overnight sleep exam. While I'm not a big snorer and had no signs most people would recognize as apnea, I stopped breathing on average 9 times per hour. My brain wasn't getting enough oxygen.
Over the years, I've gotten help in many forms. Thyroid medication helped. Exercising helped. Acupuncture was useful, and herbal medicine to support my adrenal glands made noticeable improvements. But my fundamental problem was that I could not breathe with ease. All these layers of problems and treatments that gave partial relief were secondary to the primary issue: my airway.
It was a fluke that landed me in the office of an airway-aware dentist. If I were in charge of things, I'd make sure that all pediatricians learned about this. My son has ADD - almost undoubtedly related to his breathing problems. He was so tired all the time, he dropped out of college - definitely related to his breathing problems. On a scale of 1 to 4 that measures airway, he scores class 4, having virtually no space between the back of his tongue and the roof of this mouth. In short, he can't breath. He's going to get braces, but even with just an oral appliance to make more room for his tongue he has the energy to exercise and he's lost 20 pounds. He's hypothyroid too, so we have some work ahead of us.
The inability to breathe with ease affected every aspect of my life. I stayed in a marriage way longer than I would have had I had the energy to divorce sooner. I weathered parenting a son whose brain was starving for oxygen but got labeled with attention deficit. I could never get control of my weight. Having low thyroid function makes the world seem bleak. This went on my entire adult life.
For me, the story has a happy ending. I landed in the right dentist's office. Five years ago I could barely walk without gasping for air. This year I went to Machu Picchu and charged up the mountain ridge.