The brave men and women of the United States military need their rest to protect our freedoms and serve our nation. Unfortunately, many of these troops suffer from sleep disturbances. In a 2013 report for the journal Sleep, researchers studied 726 soldiers with sleep disorders. They found: “27.2 percent had mild obstructive sleep apnea, 24.7 percent had insomnia, and 24 percent had moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea.” This means that over half of soldiers with sleep disorders suffer from some form of OSA, or obstructive sleep apnea. Dr. Stephen J. Gershberg and our team provide effective sleep apnea treatment to help anyone who struggles with this condition improve his or her overall wellbeing. In the following blog, we explain the unique sleep apnea concerns facing United States military personnel and describe how our convenient, comfortable oral appliances can help.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a chronic condition affecting millions of Americans. According to ResMed, 1 in 5 adults suffers from mild OSA and 1 in 15 has moderate to severe OSA. Soft tissue abnormalities in the mouth and throat, malocclusion (a misaligned bite), and other structural issues can create OSA by preventing air from reaching the lungs. When the patient stops receiving adequate oxygen, his or her body momentarily jolts awake, causing an apnea. Patients with OSA can experience dozens or even hundreds of apneas per night without realizing it.
OSA can create a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including:
- Chronic headaches
- Mood fluctuations
- Sore throat
- Xerostomia (dry mouth)
- Shortness of breath
- Interrupted sleep
In addition, sleep apnea can lead to stroke, heart conditions, or even death, if left untreated.
OSA During and After Service
In a piece for The New England Journal of Medicine entitled “A Good Night’s Sleep for Soldiers: One U.S. Army Doctor’s Career,” Colonel Vincent Mysliweic, MD, explains that many troops suffer from OSA: “Diagnoses of obstructive sleep apnea increased six fold and insomnia greater than 20 times during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom…As a sleep medicine physician in the military these issues resulted in major medical challenges—managing the number of active duty personnel with sleep disorders; studying the change in presentation and prevalence of sleep disorders and working with the military to enact the required changes for sound sleep.” Huffington Post reported that the average soldiers sleeps just 5.74 hours per night, suggesting that these widespread problems severely impact troops’ quality of life.
Recent research suggests that sleep apnea doesn’t stop when soldiers come home from service. According to a 2013 CHEST article, “sleep disturbances are among the most common symptoms of military personnel who return from deployment,” with 88.2 percent of 110 military subjects meeting the diagnostic criteria for sleep disorders. In fact, the prevalence of sleep apnea among veterans recently made headlines. In his USA Today article “Veterans’ claims for sleep apnea soar,” Tom Vanden Brook reported: “Veterans’ claims for sleep apnea…have spiked nearly 150% since 2009.” It’s unlikely that these numbers are due to an increased incidence of sleep apnea among soldiers. Rather, “Veterans Affairs officials attribute the surge in claims—more than 94% of them from veterans of Gulf War I or the Afghanistan and Iraq wars—to greater awareness of the condition. With that awareness comes treatment and appropriate care, they say.”
Our More Comfortable, Convenient Treatment Alternative
“Appropriate care” for military OSA typically involves the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, a bulky device connected to a facemask that uses a constant stream of pressurized air to keep the mouth and throat in proper position. While this device is typically effective, CPAP therapy can be uncomfortable, irritating, and inconvenient. For active duty soldiers, CPAP treatment may also be downright impractical, since this machine is heavy to carry and requires a nearby electrical outlet to use.
As a simple, successful alternative that may be more appropriate and useful for military personnel, Dr. Gershberg and our team provide a variety of oral appliances. These plastic devices sit within the mouth to hold it open for proper breathing. They’re also lightweight, comfortable to wear, and require no electricity to use.
About Your Bryn Mawr Sleep Apnea Dentist
Dr. Gershberg has developed his extensive dental knowledge and expertise over the past 30 years. He uses his skills to help patients in the Philadelphia area and the Main Line improve every aspect of their oral health. If you, your family, or friends have been or are in the military and are suffering from symptoms of sleep apnea (or wish to upgrade from CPAP treatment), please call Main Line Snoring Solutions at 610-527 6700 for more information and to schedule a consultation.