What is the burden of sleep apnea?

It is estimated that more than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep loss and sleep apnea affect an individual’s performance, safety and quality of life. Almost 20 percent of all serious car crash injuries in the general population are associated with sleepy drivers, independent of alcohol impact. Sleep loss and sleep disorders can also play a large role on the economy. This adds to the burden of sleep apnea. When we take a look at the high estimated costs to society if sleep apnea is left untreated, it costs far more than what would be incurred by delivering adequate treatments.

Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on direct medical costs associated with doctor visits, hospital services, prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. When compared to healthy individuals, those who suffer from sleep loss and sleep disorders are less productive. These individuals also experience an increased healthcare utilization and an increased likelihood of accidents.

The Effects of Untreated Sleep Apnea

Despite clear signs and symptoms, many patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) go undiagnosed. In return, patients who finally get diagnosed with OSA might have had obvious symptoms of the disorder for an average of seven years. During those seven years, patients report visiting their family physician about 17 times and a sub-specialist about nine times. With repeated visits, these patients are not receiving the treatment they need to lead healthy, happy lives.

Patients can also experience a number of health conditions associated with untreated sleep apnea, including:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Disease
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Acid Reflux
  • Obesity

With these negative effects of untreated sleep apnea, it is vital that we as dentists take charge of our services so that we can offer patients the best care possible—and that includes adding specialty practices in the area of dental sleep medicine.