Sleep apnea may be the worst of the underdiagnosed diseases. Starting slowly, its insidious course is often marked by general deterioration in health, eventually resulting in the development of severe conditions including heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation, liver fibrosis, and diabetes. Additionally, sleep apnea is strongly correlated with severe disability and increased risk of fatal events, particularly traffic and workplace accidents.
Yet this serial killer has been allowed to roam free, given free rein to wreak havoc on the lives of its sufferers by a medical community that has poorly understood it or even denied its troublesome existence entirely. Dr. Avi Weisfogel wanted to change all that.
Dr. Weisfogel had been running a successful dental practice, Old Bridge Dental, in Central New Jersey for a number of years. In his off hours, he often dedicated himself to the study of diseases that dentists could potentially diagnose. Sleep apnea came to his attention as a serious ailment, the early diagnosis of which could immensely benefit patients presented with it.
Dr. Weisfogel learned that the primary symptom of sleep apnea was excessive daytime sleepiness but that it carried a host of signs and anatomical risk factors as well. For example, people with a neck circumference of greater than 17 inches were at a multi-fold increase of developing the disease. Those with small jaw bones, enlarged tonsils, gastroesophageal reflux disease and obesity were similarly predisposed. What’s worse, those that had the disease but went untreated were at severely increased risk of developing sometimes lethal conditions like heart attack, stroke, diabetes, dilated cardiomyopathy and even being involved in fatal car crashes.
This disturbing knowledge focused Dr. Weisfogel’s resolve, which he directed towards the foundation of the first sleep dentistry organization in the world, Dental Sleep Masters. Dental Sleep Masters began giving seminars and disseminating materials to dentists across the United States, training them to spot the early warning signs of sleep apnea and to treat patients on a limited basis. This program proved so successful that many dentists actually reported quitting their traditional dental practices in favor of focusing solely on sleep dentistry.