The Truth About Sleep Apnea


The American Academy of Sleep Medicine labels sleep apnea as “A hidden health crisis costing America billions”. Sleep Apnea is a serious health condition where you actually stop breathing during your sleep. These episodes of not breathing can last for a few seconds or up to a minute or more. And the number of times this can occur during one’s sleep can be very few or more than 50 times in one night’s sleep. Sleep apnea is classified as obstructive or central. Obstructive sleep apnea is when the airway gets obstructed during sleep. If you are overweight this is more likely. When the muscles of the tongue, palate and throat relax during sleep they can cause the airway to collapse. Your brain senses the lack of oxygen and there is an arousal signal from your brain to start breathing again. In central sleep apnea there is a problem in the central nervous system. This is less common but more of a serious health problem.

It is estimated that there are as many as 30 million adult Americans that have sleep apnea that are not diagnosed. Many of these people may complain of daytime tiredness but left untreated the consequences of sleep apnea can be quite serious. There are many serious health conditions that can arise from untreated sleep apnea. The most prevalent are high blood pressure, cardiac disease and diabetes. Other conditions associated with untreated sleep apnea are stroke, asthma and other breathing disorders, insomnia, impotence, weight gain, depression and anxiety and possible complications in pregnancy. One can see from the potential health problems how this could cost billions in health care dollars. Low productivity at work and potential accidents at work or driving also significantly contribute to the cost of this serious health condition.

Sleep apnea is often not diagnosed due to several factors. Doctors don’t routinely screen for this condition and patients often attribute daytime sleepiness to stress and not always getting a full night’s sleep. Doctors and dentists should routinely screen their patients for sleep apnea. A simple questionnaire is all that is necessary to see if a patient potentially has sleep apnea. Snoring is very often a sign of sleep apnea. The next step is a home sleep test or a visit to a sleep lab. Once a diagnosis is made the treatment will depend on the severity of the condition. When someone has mild to moderate sleep apnea the treatment options include: an oral device made by a dentist that positions the lower jaw forward during sleep to prevent the airway from being obstructed, surgery of the palate/throat or a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. When someone is diagnosed with severe sleep apnea the treatment options include: CPAP or surgery.

Sleep apnea awareness has increased somewhat in the past few months. There have been several incidents where train operators have fallen asleep and caused terrible accidents. These operators were found to have sleep apnea after the fact. The NY MTA has decided to have all employees screened for sleep apnea. The trucking industry as well as airlines and other shipping and train corporations should be doing the same. Basically all businesses would benefit if their employees did not suffer from sleep apnea; more productivity, less sick days, and overall healthier and happier employees.

Sleep apnea is a serious health condition and often not diagnosed. Please ask your doctor or dentist about being screened. The benefits of treatment can literally add years to your life.


Robert C. Rawdin, DDS

Diplomate, American Board of Prosthodontics

NY Smile Specialists at Gallery 57 Dental

24 W 57th St., suite 701

New York, NY 10019


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