Reggie White, nicknamed “The Minister of Defense”, was a professional football player who played defensive end for 15 seasons in the National Football League for the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers becoming one of the most decorated players in NFL history. His life was cut short in 2004 when at the age of 43 he suffered a massive heart attack in his sleep. Reggie White suffered from Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which was a contributing factor to his premature death.

Over 18 million people in the U.S. suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea, but less than 10% have been diagnosed.

One of the first signs of Sleep Apnea is Snoring. Snoring is the sound of partially obstructed breathing during sleep. When Obstructive Sleep Apnea occurs, the tongue and soft palate collapse onto the back of the throat and completely block the airway, which restricts the flow of oxygen. Breathing pauses can last from 10 seconds to a minute or longer. A person with severe sleep apnea may have hundreds of breathing pauses per night.

People with obstructive sleep apnea have a higher risk of death than the normal population. The price they pay includes a potentially crippling deterioration in daily functioning, an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke, depression, and death either in accidents or in their sleep. There are terrible costs for the family of the person with obstructive sleep apnea, who may experience irritability, mood changes, lowered sexual drive and capacity, and a reduction of intellectual ability. In addition there are major business, insurance, health, and social costs including the loss of productivity, the impact of accidents caused by a driver or worker falling asleep, and the wasted health care dollars spent on alleviating symptoms like heart disease without treating their possible underlying cause.

Heart Disease both causes and is the result of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine when apneas occur the amount of oxygen in the blood can drop to below 60 percent. At the same time blood pressure can soar as high as 240/130. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, normal blood pressure is below 120/80. The heart may suffer damage as a result of the apneas. The oxygen deprivation causes the heart to pump harder to support the extra effort of the lungs trying to overcome the obstruction of the airway. This stress triggers your body to respond in ways that may promote high blood pressure, heart disease, and other cardiovascular complications. “I had one patient who came to me after suffering 4 heart attacks, he finally realized he had to do something about his untreated Sleep Apnea.” says Dr. Rod Willey of the Illinois Institute of Dental Sleep Medicine.

A study in the August 1 issue of the journal Sleep confirms the urgency of treating sleep apnea. Results show that people with severe, untreated sleep apnea have five times the risk of dying from a heart problem. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. There were more than 600,000 deaths from heart disease in 2010.

Treatment Options for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) has continued to be the “gold standard” of treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea.  If a patient is using CPAP and doing well they can stay on it. Unfortunately many patients simply cannot get used to the masks, or suffer from claustrophobia that causes them to discontinue wearing the mask.

Reggie White had a CPAP, his wife Sara White said “he used his mask hardly ever”. Sara White knows firsthand the importance of finding a treatment that will work for you and sticking with it. She has started the Reggie White Foundation in an effort to build awareness to the symptoms and risks of sleep apnea.

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, “Approximately 60% of CPAP users are still using the CPAP after a few months.” If a patient cannot wear the CPAP, other treatment options include Lifestyle Changes, Surgery, and Oral Appliance Therapy.

Oral Appliance Therapy has come to the forefront as a very viable, scientifically based treatment option for Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a statement in the 2006 Journal SLEEP declaring that Oral Appliance Therapy is an excellent treatment option for those suffering from Mild to Moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea, and is proving to be affective for severe cases as well. The purpose of the oral appliance is to hold the jaw in a position that allows the airway to remain as open and firm as possible during sleep. Oral appliances are similar to athletic mouth guards, but are less bulky. They are completely non-invasive. Many of the Koala Center for Sleep Disorders patients have been able to lower or completely get off of their blood pressure medications as a result of being treated for their obstructive sleep apnea. Our dentists will work with your physician to provide comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for your obstructive sleep apnea.

Oral Sleep Appliances are covered by most medical insurances and Medicare.

If you or a loved one suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, or cardiovascular complications contact a Koala Center for Sleep Disorders dentist today! Find a dentist near you…