The link between sleep apnea and other health conditions

About one in five Americans suffer from sleep apnea, which is a number that is far too high. And with that comes untreated sleep apnea, which can lead to further complications in a person’s health. Of those that suffer from this condition, most don’t even realize it. This can be a deadly mistake.

Whether our patients are falling asleep watching TV, sitting in the car or even at their desk, it is important that we educate our patients on the negative effects of sleep apnea before it’s too late.

What are the complications?

Many patients state that they are always tired, have memory loss and high blood pressure–all signs that they might suffer from sleep apnea. After undergoing a sleep study, it can uncover obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Interrupted sleep can lead to an array of health problems including severe daytime fatigue, heart and liver ailments, sexual dysfunction and sleep-deprived partners.

Those that suffer from sleep apnea can also pose as public safety risks. For example, engineers in two New York City commuter train crashes had sleep apnea. These crashes injured hundreds and even killed one person. After an investigation, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board found that both engineers suffered from severe sleep apnea–neither had been tested before the crashes. And 4 years before that, a train derailed in New York City (again). This time it killed four people. According to the NTSB, the driver had an undiagnosed sleep disorder.

What can be done?

While CPAP therapy is the most widely used and accepted forms of treatment for sleep apnea, dentists can offer an alternative: oral appliance therapy. These devices can adjust the position of the jaw and tongue to improve breathing throughout the night. By advancing your knowledge of sleep apnea, you can provide advanced options for your patients to help in treatment and to prevent further complications.  

Anyone can suffer from sleep apnea, but certain factors increase a patient’s risk for the sleep disorder, such as excess weight, thicker necks, a narrowed airway, being male or older, family history, use of alcohol, sedatives, smoking and nasal congestion. Stay ahead of the game and complete continuing education to ensure you know what to look out for and what to recommend to help your patients remain healthy.