By Dr. Jeff Beyer
Last month I had the opportunity to attend an American Association of Orthodontists symposium on Sleep Disorder Breathing and Sleep Apnea. It was a collaboration of medical and dental professionals sharing their expertise on a rapidly growing problem (dare I say epidemic?) that is becoming ever more prevalent in both adults and children across the U.S. and beyond. If you or a loved one are snoring at night, it could be part of a much more serious problem.
I received absolutely no training on sleep disorders in either my dental or orthodontic education, and wanted to have a better understanding of these disorders. That’s because many of my patients have indicated they suffer from sleep breathing disorders and the multitude of negative effects they can have on the body, up to and including death (yes, death). You were probably not aware that many celebrities — including Carrie Fisher (“Star Wars”), James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”), Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) and NFL player Reggie White all died from complications from Sleep Apnea.
I was amazed to hear the following statistics:
- 42 million adults have sleep disorders
- 1 in 5 adults have mild Sleep Apnea
- 75% of severe sleep disorder cases remain undiagnosed
The data is not as clear for children, but we do know that sleep disorders in children and adolescents are on the rise, with disorders able to manifest during the first six months of life. This is of particular interest to me as these younger groups makes up over 50% of the patients I see every day.
There are some significant risk factors for adults, which include being male, over age 50, a BMI of over 30 (obese), and a neck circumference over 17”. Symptoms include nightly snoring, chronic tiredness during the day, a bed partner observing stopped or interrupted breathing, and elevated blood pressure. In children, snoring is the No. 1 indicator of a sleep disorder, along with enlarged tonsils, and some things you may not think about – chronic bed wetting, attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD), and trouble with comprehension at school.
Fortunately, there are many professionals who have dedicated their careers to specializing in diagnosing and treating patients with sleep disorders. If you feel as though you or someone you know may be experiencing these symptoms, it would be wise to alert your PCP or dentist, and they can help guide you to these professionals. A sleep study at an accredited sleep center is the single best way to make a proper diagnosis, after which treatment can be prescribed based on the findings. The single most effective therapy is a CPAP machine, but for those for whom that is not the answer, both dentists and orthodontists are making oral appliances to help these patients.
I can honestly say this symposium is probably the most informative and educational meeting I have ever attended. While I am by no means a sleep disorder expert now, I do have a more thorough understanding of the signs and symptoms. I will also begin to incorporate this into my clinical examinations and practice, now knowing when to make appropriate referrals to sleep disorder professionals for proper diagnosis and treatment.
If you would like to schedule an initial consultation with Dr. Beyer or have another question, contact us today.