The Foundation for Airway Health has joined the efforts of professional dental organizations and the nonprofit world to address sleep-related breathing disorders, including sleep apnea which impacts over a billion people globally.

By Sal Rodas, MBA

It is estimated that over 1.3 billion people suffer from sleep apnea globally. Within that population, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which impacts the upper airway, is one of the most prevalent sleep-related breathing disorders (SRBD). As such, it has, in the last decade, received more attention from the healthcare community at large—but there is still more to be done.

Given the prevalence of SRBD in the United States and around the world, professional dental organizations have responded to what is considered a pandemic and published position statements, protocols, and white papers to raise awareness and address the vast number of people that remain undiagnosed.

For example, in 2017, the American Dental Association (ADA) published a position statement, The Role of Dentistry in Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders, recommending that all dental offices should actively screen patients for SRBD and treat those patients with dental sleep appliances, when indicated. Soon after, in 2019, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) published a 53-page white paper on sleep apnea, providing a 10-point recommendation on the important role that orthodontists play in identifying, treating, and managing patients with OSA.

The AAO white paper also provides an Action Plan that encourages further research about early intervention and identification of craniofacial variables that may contribute to OSA and seeks to find answers, such as whether or not obstructive sleep apnea in children may progress through adulthood.

There has also been an effort within the nonprofit world to assist in the research priorities raised by the ADA and AAO. Founded in 2012, the Foundation for Airway Health is a non-profit organization that is collaborating with the ADA to publish a validated screening tool that will help identify the millions of children that suffer from sleep disorders. The Foundation has also formed an orthodontic research committee within its organization to help shape research specific to how the orthodontic specialty can best treat patients with SRBDs.

The Foundation for Airway Health is championing research that addresses the entire spectrum of sleep-related breathing disorders. These include snoring and upper-airway resistance syndrome and mouth breathing since these conditions may be greatly impacted by the condition of the craniofacial complex, the upper airway, and associated adjunct structures, to include the oral cavity and the tongue. As it pertains to mouth breathing, it is estimated that up to 54% of children in America are mouth breathers. This is an alarming statistic that requires the immediate attention of the entire allied healthcare community.

Orthodontists are well positioned to actively identify Airway Centered Disorders and provide early intervention if the disorder is found in childhood, or, in the case of adults, help address the overwhelming amount of the population that suffers from sleep apnea. OP

Sal Rodas, MBA, is the executive director of the Foundation for Airway Health and chair of the Orthodontic Research Committee for the Foundation.