Oct / Nov 2017
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Treating Sleep Apnea Is a Moral Imperative Why I’ve Dedicated Years to Researching Sleep Medicine
I’m the type of person who’s constantly searching for new things to learn — new knowledge I can incorporate into my practice in order to provide the best care possible for my patients. To that end, around five years ago when I was looking for continuing education opportunities in my field, I discovered an area of health care that I didn’t know much about: sleep medicine. At the time, I hardly knew anything about sleep apnea. I hadn’t had any experience with the disorder myself, and I believed that none of my friends or family had either (although I know now that belief was almost certainly false). After doing some initial research, I became intrigued so I signed up for the course. I quickly learned that, far from being a niche disorder causing minor problems in a small group of individuals, sleep apnea is a dangerous epidemic across America, with millions and millions of people unknowingly suffering from this potentially fatal disorder. Make no mistake, the effects of sleep apnea kill millions of people, shaving 12 to 15 years off people’s lives. Even in nonfatal cases, it contributes to a wide array of massive health problems and quality-of-life issues. Up to 90 percent of sleep apnea cases are undiagnosed, and even among those that are diagnosed, only about 25 percent are successfully treated — about 40-50 percent of those patients who are put on CPAP (the most widely prescribed remedy for sleep apnea) cannot tolerate this treatment. I learned that a
properly constructed oral appliance can be effective in reducing or eliminating sleep apnea in mild and moderate cases of the condition, and can even help in more severe cases where a patient cannot (or will not) tolerate CPAP therapy. During class one day, the instructor paused and looked at us with a very solemn expression. “Now that you have this knowledge,” he said, “You can’t just go back and ignore this anymore. Now, you have an obligation to help.” I took his words very seriously. I immediately invested in some basic equipment and immersed myself in the world of dental sleep medicine, learning absolutely everything I could. With every new fact I learned about the disorder, I felt more and more that it was my moral imperative to help
curb this silent killer. It’s been one of my main focuses throughout the last five years.
Just recently, I achieved the “Qualified Dentist” designation from the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), the premier organization in the field. Many dentists out there take a weekend course in sleep apnea and then declare themselves experts, but the Qualified Dentist title shows patients I’ve put in dozens of additional hours into mastering the intricacies of sleep medicine and oral appliance therapy. It’s more than just a badge to me. Not only that, but I’m embarking this month on a process that will eventually lead to the highest designation available: Diplomate status. Receiving this prestigious designation often takes almost two years. It requires 50 hours of continuing education in sleep medicine, the completion of a lengthy written examination, as well as extensive documentation and presentation of 15 cases of sleep apnea successfully treated with oral appliance therapy. It’ll be a ton of work, but it’s important to me that I truly provide the best care I can to each and every one of my patients. It’s vital to me that my patients have the capability to breathe easily and sleep well throughout the night, getting the rest they need to live full, happy, healthy lives.
“Now that you have this knowledge,” he said,“You can’t just go back and ignore this anymore. Now, you have an obligation to help.”
- Dr. Joel Nathanson
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