Bonner dentist on ‘crusade’ to spread sleep apnea awareness
In the past few weeks, area dentist Thomas Drake has started what he calls his “own, personal crusade.”
Drake is setting out to let area residents know about a problem that has potentially a huge impact on their health: obstructive sleep apnea. He has offered free seminars at the Tonganoxie, Basehor and Linwood libraries, with another set this weekend at the Bonner Springs Family YMCA.
“I want people to live longer; this is a life-shortening condition, as well as something that lowers a person’s quality of life,” Drake said.
Apnea is defined as the cessation of breathing for more than 10 seconds, and snoring is a common symptom. But Drake, who has been a practicing dentist for more than 30 years, says people don’t tend to understand how serious sleep apnea is, leading to problems like diabetes, obesity and heart attacks.
“A lot of people have heard of it; I think that the confusing thing is that 40 percent of Americans over the age of 40 snore, but only about 15 percent of those are actually obstructive sleep apnea cases,” he said. “ ... I think the problem is people think snoring is common and, therefore, nothing to worry about.”
Drake is from the St. Louis area but attended dental school at University of Missouri-Kansas City. He began his practice in Basehor in 1977, and 20 years ago he moved to his current location, the first tenant in the building at 140 N. 130th St., Bonner Springs.
He said he has always been interested in the “cutting edge” of dentistry and was among the first area dentists to treat temporomandibular joint disorders, to use functional orthopedic appliances in orthodontics, and to have a laser and interoral camera.
Drake started taking continuing education courses on sleep apnea about three years ago and realized that dentists can be the first line of diagnosis for it, using what they observe about tonsils, the soft pallet and other indicators. While only a physician can actually diagnose the condition, dentists can see the indicators and recommend that a patient see a doctor and have a sleep study performed to definitively diagnose it.
Drake said he learned that sleep apnea is twice as common in men as in women. He said those who have it are three to five times more likely to be in a car accident and twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack. It also contributes to hypertension and diabetes.
“It’s just fascinating,” Drake said. “My mouth would just fall open at all of these outrageous connections to various health conditions people have, and getting it all traced back to lack of proper sleep.”
Drake said when a person stops breathing at night, the oxygen level in their blood stream plummets and the body pumps out adrenaline, which stresses the body. The hormones in a person’s system then get out of whack, he said — some used too much, leading to hypertension/diabetes, and some too few, like a hormone produced during the night that makes you feel full, leading to obesity.
In the first year after Drake began his classes, he found 35 patients who he suspected might have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea isn’t as common in children, but Drake said those who do have it often are misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder when really, they are just lacking proper sleep. Often the cause for children, and for some adults, is enlarged tonsils.
“I had a case, and the parents said, ‘Oh, yeah, the kid snores; we can hear him down the hall.’ And his tonsils were practically meeting at the back of his throat; he had a 90 percent blockage of his airway,” Drake said.
Those who are found to have sleep apnea might be given a breathing mask to wear at night, but Drake said one thing he and other dentists can offer is an oral appliance, a sort of retainer that keeps the jaw in place and airways from becoming obstructed.
Drake said he hopes to offer a series of free seminars in the surrounding communities once or twice each year. This weekend’s sleep apnea seminar is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Bonner Springs Family YMCA. For more information, contact the dental office at 913-721-1300.