Sleep Matters: What Apnea Studies Teach Us About Brain Health
Do you ever wake up feeling tired? Have you been told that you snore? If so, you may have obstructive sleep apnea, one of the most common sleep disorders among adults. One of two major types of sleep apnea, obstructive apnea occurs when you stop breathing while asleep because something is blocking your airway, and it can be very dangerous to sufferers. And, interestingly, the impact of sleep apnea on health can be quite extensive. As recent studies of both obstructive and central sleep apnea demonstrate, the condition may be linked to memory problems and may even mimic Alzheimer’s disease’s impact on the brain.
Sleep Apnea: The Basics
We know that obstructive sleep apnea is very common among adults, but we don’t have particularly good data on the condition, with estimates ranging from 9-38%. However, we do know that men, older adults, and overweight individuals are more likely to suffer from this form of sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea, a form of the condition characterized by the failure of the brain to trigger breathing during sleep, is more commonly linked to other health conditions, ranging from congestive heart failure to various neurological diseases, and may occur at any age. For example, children with Angelman syndrome are prone to both central and obstructive sleep apnea, as are young people with Prader-Willi syndrome.
Sleep And The Brain
Sleep is an important function of the brain, and our brain’s activity changes immensely while we sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, or sleep poorly, though, the consequences extend far beyond simple fatigue. Given this, scientists studying the impact of sleep, or a lack thereof, on the brain have turned to obstructive sleep apnea patients as a sample group, and one thing they’ve discovered is that many people with obstructive sleep apnea demonstrate the same brain changes seen in Alzheimer’s patients, despite the fact that they were never diagnosed with any form of dementia.
Even before this study of sleep apnea patients, it was clear to researchers and doctors that Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia were closely linked to sleep, and particularly to circadian rhythm disorders. As recent brain research has shown, Alzheimer’s patients often experience serious sleep disruption, which can cause them to get up and wander in the middle of the night and can complicate their care. Further research into the vulnerability of the primary circadian clock gene (Clk) to neurodegenerative disease is still underway.
Other Theories And Research Avenues
In addition to the research showing neurofibrillary tangles and beta-amyloid plaques in sleep apnea patients’ brains, ongoing work seeks to understand why these develop in this patient set. One working hypothesis suggests that insufficient deep sleep among obstructive sleep apnea patients may interfere with the body’s ability to clear beta-amyloid and other waste from the brain. Looking ahead, if researchers can determine why these patients develop plaques but do not develop dementia symptoms, this could offer valuable insights for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
Patients often dismiss sleep apnea as snoring or as a condition that just makes them feel a little tired, but the more we learn about it, the more concerning the long-term effects of this condition become. Just as researchers are taking the condition seriously as a topic of study, then, patients must take its management serious to mitigate its medical consequences.
Frontier Dental Lab’s Direct-to-Consumer Marketing Connects Dentists and Patients
Dr. Caylin Frye, a cosmetic dentist at Mid-City Smiles in New Orleans, has worked in the dental industry for over two decades. In all that time, she has never had a dental lab bring a patient to her office door. However, that’s exactly what happened when Frontier Dental Lab Group connected her with Ignacia Soto-Aguilar.
The inspiration behind Frontier Dental Lab’s direct-to-consumer campaign
Gil Villavecer, Chief Marketing Officer at Frontier Dental Lab Group, was well aware of two key factors influencing Frontier’s marketing strategy. First, he knew his clients were dentists who tended to stick to traditional marketing methods as simple as word of mouth. Second, he knew that most people didn’t realize dental labs even existed. For these reasons, labs like Frontier have historically been absent from the direct-to-consumer marketing space.
“I like to be a trailblazer,” says Villavecer. “My lightbulb moment came when I realized that we have far more horsepower than the average dentist. After all, what dental office has a full-time marketing department? To better serve our dentists, I shifted our approach to a direct-to-consumer campaign.”
Villavecer’s first hurdle was introducing Frontier Dental Lab Group to a public that, up until that point, had been unaware of its existence. In general, dental labs have avoided digital marketing, but Villavecer knew the internet was the only way forward. So, Frontier uploaded educational clips to YouTube and fired up an Instagram account with a new mission to “Educate, Entertain, and Connect.”
Frontier Dental Lab’s DTC marketing in action
Frontier Dental Lab’s most innovative initiative is its Smile Simulations. Through this program, potential patients upload selfies to Frontier’s website and receive before and after pictures showing the possibilities of a smile makeover.
Soto-Aguilar first encountered Frontier Dental Lab through the Smile Simulation initiative and was blown away by her digital makeover. “The assessment was so quick and personal,” she remembers. “I received my before-and-after shots in an hour, and I couldn’t believe the amount of detail that Frontier put into it. That was my first insight into how much Frontier cares about its patients. They enabled me to visualize exactly how I would look with a new smile.”
Along with the Smile Simulation, Frontier Dental Lab sent a list of seven Trusted Frontier Dentists in Soto-Aguilar’s area who could make her simulation a reality. “We try to make research easy for people,” says Gil. “We believe that educated consumers are the best consumers.”
Frontier Dental Lab builds trust between dentists and patients
For convenience, Frontier linked each cosmetic dentist’s Instagram profile. When Soto-Aguilar clicked on Dr. Frye’s Instagram account, she felt an instant connection.
“Dr. Frye and I are both artists,” she explains. “I saw the care she put into her online presence and knew I would be in good hands. In this digital world, we put our work out there to show our clients what they can expect before we ever meet them. It’s visual and very intimate.”
Soto-Aguilar’s trust in Dr. Frye grew with every new piece of information she learned. She scanned through before and after shots of smiling patients and read a feature article about Dr. Frye dancing with her clients. Above all, she was struck by Dr. Frye’s honesty in describing her practice.
“I felt like I already knew her,” recalls Soto-Aguilar. “She wasn’t trying to sell anything to me. She was just talking about her passion for beautiful smiles.”
Within two days of uploading her selfie to Frontier Dental Lab’s Smile Simulation Center, Soto-Aguilar was talking with Dr. Frye in her office as if they had known each other for years. At that consultation, she scheduled an appointment for 20 veneers.
Dr. Frye says this is the most straightforward case she has closed in 21 years because of the foundation of trust established before the consultation. “Ignacia contacted me through the email from Frontier Dental Lab and was so excited that she even brought the smile simulation to our consultation. By the time we met, she trusted my work as a cosmetic dentist and Frontier’s work as a dental lab.”
In fact, Dr. Frye was so thrilled about the direct-to-consumer marketing that connected her to Soto-Aguilar that she shot a text to Villavecer that day: “Hey, Gil! Super cool story! A patient went through the smile simulation on your site, you sent her my info, and she’s coming in tomorrow. That’s the power of your marketing in the flesh!”
Villavecer counts that among the most exciting messages he has ever received. The only one he might enjoy more came days later from Soto-Aguilar. Along with pictures of her new smile, she texted: “Hi, Gil! You’ll love to see this! My smile is just how you imagined it!”
Currently, Frontier is focusing on harnessing the power of digital marketing to reach consumers. Its ground-breaking efforts to Educate, Entertain, and Connect potential patients prove that this marketing campaign is about much more than sales — it’s about building relationships and helping potential patients imagine the possibilities.
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