We continue to learn more and more about sleep apnea. But what is alarming is a new study that has come out of the University of Buffalo. That study found that over the past 20 years, more Black men have died from obstructive sleep apnea than white people or Black women. To make matters worse, their death from sleep apnea continues to rise.

There is a significant racial health disparity

For the first time, this study, published in Sleep Medicine, has identified a significant racial health disparity in mortality that results from sleep apnea. Looking at sleep apnea-related mortality between 1999 and 2019, there was a steady increase in mortality from 1999 to 2008. At that point, the rates flattened for Black women and white men and women. 

This flattening may suggest that medical management and public health interventions helped to stabilize outcomes in these groups. However, Black men were the only group that saw a continuous increase in mortality from sleep apnea for 21 years, according to the study.

Why is this happening?

This concerning information can be due to a combination of factors. One may be compliance with sleep apnea treatment such as CPAP therapy. This is likely to contribute to the continuous increase in mortality from sleep apnea among Black men.

Dentists, physicians and other health professionals have opportunities where they can help. There is always room for improvement in most areas of what we do. One is optimizing the use of sleep apnea treatment–whether that is CPAP or oral appliance therapy. In fact, if CPAP is the issue, then these patients could potentially benefit from oral appliance therapy.

Because sleep apnea is a relatively underdiagnosed condition, it can pose a greater problem to everyone, especially our Black patients. That is why it is important as dentists to gain further knowledge in this area to further help our patients.