Many of Dr. Alvarez' dental patients never hear a high-pitched drill or look down the barrel of a needle loaded with novocaine. That's because a significant portion of his dental practice is devoted to treating people with sleep disorders rather than cavities (although he'll fix those, too). Alvarez specializes in an alternative treatment to what's known as sleep apnea, which is usually accompanied by loud, awful snoring. Those who suffer from apnea stop breathing repeatedly during the night until the brain startles the body enough to get the air flowing again. The short-term result is that those with apnea never get a full night's rest; in the long term, the condition can exacerbate heart conditions and raise blood pressure. The trouble is there isn't a surefire cure. Surgery is expensive and often ineffective, and the air masks sleep-doctors often prescribe are uncomfortable and hard to get used to. Alvarez is a top local provider of a less invasive dental solution: an oral appliance that fits like a mouthguard and pushes out the lower jaw, opening up space for the breathing passages. Alvarez boasts that he achieves better than 85 percent "compliance," meaning patients are actually using the device because they don't find it uncomfortable. It costs about $500 to start with a temporary mouthpiece and another $1,500 for a permanent one. Ask Patti in Dr. A's office to check if your medical insurance will cover at least part of the costs. It's at least worth a call. Your bedmate will thank you.