About Dr Levi
Dr Mark Levi
Pediatric Craniofacial Sleep Medicine
Dr Mark Levi has over 30 years experience as a Dentist, and over 20 years in Craniofacial Dental Sleep Medicine.
He is a member of the Australasian Sleep Association, American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and European Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine.
As a former sufferer of Sleep Apnoea, Dr Levi understands the problem from all perspectives, and has the technical expertise to provide the best customised and appropriate solution to suit your individual needs.
• Trained in the USA by the world's leading Sleep Experts
• Often seen on national television
• Lectures widely
11 Years Old & Wetting the Bed
My Journey as a Bedwetter - Dr. Mark Levi
Yep, 11 years old and bedwetting. “Enuresis” the doctors call it and that was me.
Grandiose start to where we are today, 62 years old this year, Dr Mark Levi Craniofacial Dental Sleep medicine. One of only a small handful of specialists in Australia. What an impressive way to start my career!
This chapter is all about what happens when a “breathing airway” does not work at its best. It's about me. It’s the story I tell my patients every day. It’s the story of what can happen to a young child, with a small problem, in my case it was bedwetting and how over a lifetime it can cascade, get worse and develop into bigger problems.
So my bedwetting at the tender age of 11 years old eventually affected my marriage. Big time. It affected my self-esteem at one stage. It affected my quality of life. At one stage, it was just totally debilitating.
Let's walk that journey from age 11 to 20 to 30 to 40 and end up at age 62 today. I say to my patients, if only 51 years ago a professional, whether it be a dentist, doctor or any other specialist had picked up a hint of my “breathing airway” problem. Imagine someone had pointed my parents in the right direction to see a professional who could help me then. Who knew the signs and symptoms and who knew the steps to take to explore, diagnose and treat and maybe even eventually fix my core problem? Maybe only then would I have been saved from a life of debilitating, embarrassing, and annoying medical problems.
The sad truth is that right now, every day I see parents totally exhausted after trying everything and visiting every Doctor possible to help their children. Desperate. They get to us and either think we are either crazy or the best. Maybe they say I don’t believe your science at all. Or maybe they say this all makes sense now and I can join the dots, and thank you.
We see children experiencing bedwetting, ADHD, ADD, challenging behaviour, trouble with concentration and focus at school, kids that are always tired or just totally washed out. We work with a large circle of other professionals from an array of different specialties with a focus on airway health. Some call that holistic. Some call it collaborative. I just call it sensible. This is a team effort!
Me. I was just an 11-year-old child, still wetting the bed….
So let's begin my journey.
11 years old
I had five siblings. I was the second youngest. I shared a room in Sydney, Australia with my brother. My Dad worked long hours. My Mum was busy raising all these children and did not drive. Not much money in the house either. So imagine the horror every morning. Mark has wet the bed again. Woken up drenched wet before school. My Mum was beside herself. She hoped it was just a passing phase. Yeh .. passing phase of bedwetting at age 11.
Almost every day she had to strip my bed and wash all the sheets and hang them out on the line to dry. No fancy clothes dryer in my house in those days. My Mum was getting really angry. Just frustrated, tired, and worn out. When will this damn phase pass?
My brother was a good sport. We shared a bedroom together. He would drink bucket loads of water before bed. Tons of water. So that when he woke in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom he would also wake me. We would both go to the bathroom.
Did it help? No. Though I was warmed by the brotherly love to try and help.
Bedwetting really affected me emotionally for decades to come. I had a dark secret that bothered me. To this day at age 62 I still vividly remember those times.
18 years old
I suppose I was a ‘’normal’’ kid at 18 years old. Chasing girls. Trying to fit in somewhere. Trying to “find my tribe” I like to say. I was a bit (ok a lot) nerdy. But I so desperately wanted to be accepted and liked. How did I go? Well ok, I suppose.
I ponder that if 62-year-old Dr. Mark Levi had looked into the mouth of 18-year-old Mark Levi, what would he say? He would say what a disaster your mouth, your teeth, your bite is. How do you function? How do you breathe? Your teeth and bone structure are all in the wrong place. Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. (sorry, I am a boatie).
So I am 16 years old with teeth that are not where they are meant to be. Would braces have helped? Well, as I said my parents had no money for such things. I think today the braces or orthodontics would have probably made me a touch better or maybe a lot worse. That’s right. Probably a lot worse. I did not need pretty teeth all in a neat row to smile at the girls. I needed my airway to improve so that I could breathe.
19 years old
Did I mention that I was overweight? Did I mention that my weight had crept up and my self esteem was going down? Did I mention that I was chasing girls and feeling pretty poorly about my presentation?
I could not work out why the weight was increasing. I was a young man with hormones rushing around my body, feeling rather self-conscious and suffering low self-esteem not to mention negative body image issues.
Turns out that the hormones were the problem! We did not know then but we sure know now that when my breathing and my airway were not working properly, my hormones would be sent out of whack!
So I am overweight with low body image, low self-esteem and my leptin, guarlin, insulin and cortisol hormones and secretions are totally out of kilter causing me to put on more weight by the day. All because no one picked up on my airway issues.
No medical emergency here, but I could have done without that phase of my life thank you. I just wanted to fit in with the crowd and not be the overweight kid.
23 years old
So I am now 23 years old and here comes the next power punch to my health and self-esteem. My temporomandibular joint goes crazy on me!
OK OK I get it, too much technical talk. The temporomandibular joint is the ball and socket joint right next to your ear. Open and close your mouth and you can feel the joint. It closely resembles the knee joint because it has a ball and socket too.
So I am a young man, probably just about to graduate dentistry at university. Studying madly. Dating heaps. Looking to start a career. I have a lot going on! Lots.
Where do I start to explain how this feels? Health is playing up but I am trying to look like a trainee Rockstar to the outside world. We know today to look at the breathing and airway but not then.
How about here I just list all my symptoms that I am trying to ignore? Maybe also I will list the symptoms (thank heavens!) that I did NOT have that we see so often in 23-32 year-olds today.
Every time I opened and closed my mouth it made a “click” noise. We are talking loud click here! Like embarrassing noise eating a meal with friends and family. So what, it's just an annoying noise making me feel like a bigger dork than I am. Well turns out it was causing deterioration to my joint every time it clicked. Think “osteoporosis” or some other terrible bony problem. If it's bad at 23 then what will I be like later in life?
Every click would also hurt. Pain. Admittedly not always and not that much. I was lucky. (Some get massively debilitating pain!)
Did I mention grinding my teeth? I was making so much noise grinding my teeth at night in the bedroom that my then fiancé almost didn’t marry me? Imagine a peaceful calm balmy night, quiet and still, until my teeth start gnashing and grinding so loudly it would wake my sleeping fiancé.
It gets worse, my teeth start wearing away because of all my grinding. Yep, my teeth have chips and wear marks and my front teeth are looking shorter.
The good news is that I did not have anxiety or depression as symptoms from this time in my life, but sadly many do. When you think about it, I was wrecking my own teeth. With lots of negative mental, physical and social repercussions.
This problem is treated with a dental splint. My dental splint was on the upper teeth. It was made of hard plastic acrylic that covered my top teeth. I wore it every single night.
The good news is that it was ever so comfortable and stopped the breakdown of my teeth and joints. I was still grinding like crazy but all the symptoms quietened down. I had to have it regularly replaced at great cost because I kept chewing through it.
38 years old
Why, why, why didn’t anybody understand airway and breathing back then?
I remember my 38th birthday like yesterday. Snoring.
Yes, my snoring had kicked in. Not just any snoring. We are talking “wake the neighbours” type snoring.
I will never forget the words my wife spoke in total frustration and despair. She was sleep deprived because of my horrendous snoring.
She said: “fix your snoring or get out”
I said: “ but what about the three little kiddies we have?”
She said: “ forget the kids, just fix your snoring or get out!”
I did fix the snoring.
Careful, this story is about to get worse, heaps worse!
So I went to see a friend who was a Respiratory Lung Specialist about my snoring. He then had me do an overnight sleep test at the hospital. No big deal, it’s just snoring right? What’s all the fuss about? Why was my wife being so difficult and complaining so much? I slept great. Couldn’t hear a thing. Woke up feeling damn awesome. On top of the world, except for my wife’s complaining.
I told you it gets worse!
Doctor: “Mark, I have looked at the results of your test and sadly you have sleep apnea”
Mark: “Really, what’s that?”
Doctor: “Mark you stop breathing about every minute or so at night”
Mark: “I’m fine. I feel on top of the world. Must be a mistake”
Doctor: “Mark, this is serious. Untreated you are heading toward a long list of symptoms, heart problems and diabetes to name a few. This is serious.
Mark: “You are kidding right?”
Doctor: “Mark, you need to wear a CPAP mask on your face at night to help you breathe, Forever”
I walked out of that appointment. Went to the lift. Went down to my car. I was on my own. Remember I’d walked in so confident and happy. Well, my world just crashed around me. I sat in the car for probably 15 minutes, numb. Unable to move. Too much information, too fast, catching me off guard and with an awful prognosis. Plus that mask thing. My life is over.
45 years old
I wore that CPAP mask with that machine that pushed oxygen down my lungs like an air conditioner. Three or four years I wore that. Did I mention I hated it?
Did I mention that my marriage was not the best? The machine in the bedroom only made it worse.
Did I mention that I had nil, zero, not even one symptom that bothered me except the snoring? Everyone else is tired and has lots of symptoms but not me. Just snoring. I could run 10km easily. Fit as a fiddle.
I hated that CPAP machine with a vengeance but persisted because I tended to do as I was told. Besides, I had a responsibility to my three children to provide and protect (not die).
50 years old
Well there is good and bad news at 50 years old.
I can still run up a hill at warp speed, super fit but I still have that Sleep Apnea. I managed to get rid of that CPAP machine I so hated. I look back and now understand why only 30% of patients given a CPAP machine last. I also look back and wish that I knew what I knew today about airways and how to improve them.
So the good news is that I stopped wearing the CPAP machine.
Instead I now wear an upper and lower mouthguard called a mandibular advancement splint that holds my jaw forward so that air can get down to my lungs when I sleep.
I don’t snore either!
The bad news is that my marriage has ended. How much did my snoring and breathing problems contribute to that still have me wondering today? Don’t know. Sure did not help me!
The next eight years are neither good nor bad news. I have this horrible scary problem called sleep apnea. I have to wear a mouthguard every night. I have used about ten of these over many years. I keep getting the latest and greatest model available on the world market. If it's new, I buy it, whatever the cost. Bought some really expensive laser technology and had to fly to Miami Florida to be trained by the inventor because nobody knew how to use it properly in Australia. Over this time I increasingly go to the USA for sleep conferences, I want to be the best in Australia. I also want the best possible treatment for myself that you can find in the world. I joined the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. When I joined it was probably only 5-10 years old. A new science. I've visited the USA once or twice every year for the last 15 years. I am a junky that needs sleep conferences.
Over time I’ve developed many many friends all over the USA and Canada. I recognise and know the international speakers.
I am riding high and feeling good. Not thrilled with my mouthguard to breathe at night but it's OK. It’s a bit smelly and a bit embarrassing but we manage.
So you know the expression: when everything is great in your life, look out because something awful is coming?
60 years old
Remember I said something bad was coming?
Remember I said I wish my airway and breathing was addressed when I was eleven years old?'
At 60 years of age:
My teeth and jaw played up so much that I had to go back to using the CPAP machine for about 4 months. You know how much I hate that. You see the mandibular advancement splint just stopped working. (Happens. Not uncommon) Plus because I had worn this mouthguard for so many years my jaw, teeth and joints had all moved. (Very common) I was a mess!
No one told me that after almost 20 years of continuous treatment for my sleep apnea it could all go bad and pear-shaped overnight. This was me. Sad, miserable and in trouble. Feeling like a geriatric old man of 60 years of age and heading south fast!
I went to all my favourite trusted superstar dental specialists for help. At one stage I went to my root canal endodontist dental specialist because I was convinced I needed a root canal. The pain was horrific coming from one single tooth. Turns out that I had bashed the tooth for so many years with my lousy bite that the nerve was screaming back at me.
My joint was sorted out by the prosthodontist who specialised in temporomandibular joints. Again, he said that after 15 odd years of wearing my dental snoring mouthguard device this was not surprising. So now I had a new mouthguard to quieten down my screaming jaw pain.
Well, it was all a surprise to me! Big time! I was miserable.
61 years old
After 20-odd years at conferences in the USA with maybe 2,000 - 5,000 attendees I had developed a great core of colleagues in North America.
One day I received a call from my friend Lauri in California. She was coming to Australia and thought I could give some advice. Well, we are a pretty hospitable bunch over here and of course we fussed over Lauri and her family lots. She told me about a new sleep technology, maybe 10 years old, that was just starting to grow in the USA.
Did some research. Made some phone calls to the USA.
I met Professor Dave Singh on a whistle stop visit to Australia who is the man responsible for these new fancy sleep protocols.
Did I understand it at first? No!
Did it make sense at first? No!
Did it peak my curiosity? You bet it did!
More luck came my way a few months later. I was due in the USA for a big conference and I wanted to understand this stem cell stimulating biomimetic oral device technology. So I organised to attend a small lecture that was being put together. Tiny really. Not 5,000 people present but maybe 50.
The rest is history. I was sold in 60 minutes. Met a few dentists I knew in North America who had treated themselves first. Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier I asked? I completed all the training which took a good 4 weeks out of my life with my USA colleagues working 24/7. Exhausted but wanted to get it done. It cost a fortune to get trained and a small fortune of time invested but have never looked back.
Guess who my first patient was? You guessed it … ME !!!
Let's fix me first!
I want my breathing and airway to function without machines or splints or lasers or any other ongoing treatment.
Here is the kicker that really really really continually amazes me. Everyone I meet in the USA, and I have a whole heap of new friends now, they are all my age. That's right, they are 45-60-ish. They have had long fruitful careers in sleep or joints or some other related area in dentistry and suddenly see this VIVOS protocol and go … this makes sense to me, count me in!
62 years old
Let me finish this chapter by saying:
Thank you to Natalie in the USA who held my hand from day 1 when I was curious. You should be very, very proud of those two small children of yours who almost died at age 4 and 6 from airway issues. Your crying (every time) and belief in this system got me to where I am today.
Thank you to Ralph, my first paediatric (child) patient. Age 6 years old. Before my very eyes you improved from day one. Forget all those USA lectures. This was MY patient. This was me watching a “flower grow & blossom” under my care. This was mind-blowing. We stopped the bedwetting in 4 days. Day 8 Ralph slept so quietly and still (unheard of) that his parents had to gently shake him to make sure he was still breathing. But the trophy of all trophies was when your school teacher gave you all those improvement awards at the end of the year and the footy excellence award and they all wanted to know who this “new improved, over achieving” child was. Proud of you.
Dr Mark Levi