Lee Surkin, MD, who triple board certified in sleep medicine, cardiology, and nuclear cardiology, is in private practice at Carolina Sleep in Greenville, NC, where one distinction lies in offering obstructive sleep apnea patients therapy options beyond CPAP. “Typically, when people think about sleep apnea, they assume their only option is a CPAP machine. Many don’t want to wear a mask. But other treatment options do exist,” Surkin says in a release. “The most effective secondary treatment option (and in some cases, primary treatment option) is a dental appliance.

“One of the initiatives I’ve been working on, on a national level, is through the American Academy of Cardiovascular Sleep Medicine in collaboration with a dental sleep organization, Dream Sleep. We also partner with the Academy of Clinical Sleep Disorders Disciplines. The goal is to get dentists across the country properly trained in dental sleep medicine, developing a relationship locally between the dentist and the sleep medicine physician. Creating a care team, we educate the public that there are alternative sleep apnea treatments. Most people visit their dentist more regularly than their physician. The dentist and the hygienist work where sleep apnea is happening, the mouth and airway, and a few screening questions could identify patients who previously would not be screened or tested.”

A group Surkin says are a high risk of obstructive sleep apnea is retired NFL players. Sleep apnea often develops with the onset of weight gain, which many retired NFL players experience soon after their playing days are over. Several NFL players, active and retired, also experience chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease of the brain with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including concussions as well as asymptomatic sub-concussive hits to the head. CTE can lead to different sleep disorders, including sleep apnea and excessive sleepiness not related to sleep apnea. The dual initiative with the NFL is to get players who have had concussions tested and treated.

Dream Sleep was a VIP sponsor of the NFL Draft Day Experience at the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Surkin met with several retired NFL players, most of whom have signed on to participate in Dream Sleep as spokespeople. Surkin says, “I met with NFL Hall of Famer Mel Blount from the Pittsburgh Steelers as well as other former NFL greats who assisted in coordinating a meeting with numerous NFL corporate leaders to discuss this initiative. As a result of these meetings, DreamSleep is now positioned to spearhead a NFL-wide sleep program.”

Surkin’s goal is to generate a greater degree of interest from dentists to participate in Dream Sleep’s training program, identify more patients struggling with sleep apnea, and spread knowledge base of alternative treatment options.