Sleep Apnea: As many as 90 percent of all cases are undiagnosed

Healthy Smiles by Rita Tempel, DDS – This column was originally published in the Gettysburg Times, February 15, 2018

There is a rising health issue among our population: sleep apnea. The number of people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has steadily increased over the past two decades, but the most alarming thing is that it’s estimated that 80-90 percent of those affected are undiagnosed! I am compelled to talk about this topic today because, not only am I seeing more and more patients with sleep apnea, but members of my own family are also affected by this disorder.

So what is sleep apnea? It’s a disorder which causes a person to briefly stop breathing when asleep. Currently, more than 100 million people globally have been diagnosed with OSA. One of the most common indicators that someone has sleep apnea is a tendency to snore while sleeping. But that’s certainly not the only sign.

A landmark study was just released in the fall of 2017 with incredible findings specific to women and OSA. Here’s what they found: Women who have difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings, and restless sleep may indicate they have OSA.

Daytime clues that women may have OSA include mood symptoms, such as feeling depressed, anxious, irritable, or impatient, or always feeling tired or drained. Women with OSA may notice that they struggle to stay awake and may actually fall asleep at the wrong time or place, like at work or in public places. Women may also be experiencing cognitive difficulties—forgetfulness, foggy or fuzzy thinking, and trouble with word-finding, focus and concentration.

But there’s more. Additional studies, in both men and women, point to a link between sleep apnea and high levels of the amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However, by diagnosing sleep apnea in its early stages, people may actually DELAY the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, along with the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. This is far-reaching, into so many areas of our health!

This is all valuable research, but we need to apply it to our loved ones. If you suspect you or a loved one may be at-risk for OSA, talk to your doctor or dentist. That’s right—your dentist! My dental practice, along with many others, helps patients get screened for, diagnosed and treated for OSA. I now offer a home sleeping test unit which will test you for obstructive sleep apnea. If you already have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and do not like wearing your CPAP, I will work with your physician or board-certified sleep physician to offer you an oral appliance solution. These customized oral appliances worn at night are durable pieces of medical equipment which not only alleviate the symptoms and health effects of OSA, but can increase your lifespan.

Researchers are urging medical professionals to help raise public awareness of OSA. I hope that by writing this column, I am doing my part! Please share this vital information with your friends and family—it could be life-changing.

Dr. Rita Tempel is the owner and founder of Gettysburg Smiles, a cosmetic and family dental practice located at 2018 York Road (Route 30 East), Gettysburg. She is a Sustaining Member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. For more information, see GettysburgSmiles.com, follow Gettysburg Smiles on Facebook, or call 717-339-0033.

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