Reprinted with update from an article in Health and Wellness Magazine Nov, 2013
Every year in America there are nearly 500,000 commercial truck accidents, and, according to the Federal Motor Carrier’s Safety Administration, driver fatigue accounts for nearly 40% of these accidents. Obstructive sleep apnea is an incredibly frequent and treatable cause of the truckers’ fatigue, yet most truck drivers have not been tested for sleep apnea and, due to the inconvenience of common sleep apnea treatments, even fewer are being treated for their fatigue. For years this problem has remain unaddressed. However as Executive Director of the Dental Division of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy, I think our team can make our highways safer.
Also as founder and President of Pro Player Health Alliance, an organization which teams up with retired professional sports players to promote sleep apnea awareness, I have had the opportunity to help numerous former NFL players achieve a better night’s sleep. I noticed that, like NFL players, truckers endure long periods of travel and are frequently overweight, which places them at a higher risk of having obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, according to a recent study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a third of American truck drivers have medium to severe sleep apnea.
Thus, On July 11th 2013 I, as well as Dr. Elliott Alpher and Dr. Richard Klein, met with the Department of Transportation to present ways to treat truck drivers for obstructive sleep apnea. The conventional treatment method for obstructive sleep apnea involves using a Controlled Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device. However these machines are bulky and require electricity, usually from large batteries, in order to function. Therefore most truck drivers, due to their frequent traveling, find CPAP devices to be very inconvenient. Furthermore, according to the American Thoracic Society, even in the general patient population, between 46% and 83% of CPAP patients will not adhere to CPAP therapy. Instead, we recommended for truck drivers the same treatment already been using for NFL players: oral appliance therapy.
Since 1981, Gergen’s Orthodontic Lab has been designing the highest quality oral appliances. Based on my experience, I feel that an oral appliance is
safe, affordable, easily transported, and non-electric, which makes it ideal for a trucker’s lifestyle. In the past, CPAP has been favored because of its ability to measure compliance and usage. However, with the addition of a new panel of sensors invented by Dr. Bonato, CEO of Braebon, who was also at the meeting, any of the oral appliances made with the sensor by Gergen’s can be used to measure compliance and usage. Appliances include the Sleep Herbst, EMA, Respire, TAPs and the newest addition invented by Steven Harkins, the Twilite Appliance which has successfully treated over 300 patients.
Furthermore even the sleep apnea screening process can be made simpler and more portable by using new technology which could record data from off-site locations such as a hotel room or even the cab of a truck. With the availability of this new portable technology, I believe that truckers deserve the same treatment that we have been delivering to NFL players for years.
The Department of Transportation agreed with our presentation and the government responded. On October 15th 2013 a major step was taken toward making America’s highways safer when President Obama signed into law H.R. 3095, which requires screening all commercial truck drivers for sleep apnea. Screening for sleep apnea will make thousands of drivers aware of the cause for their drowsiness and will encourage them to pursue treatment.
Still, there are more workers in the transportation sector who could be helped by sleep apnea screening and oral appliance treatment, including train operators and pilots. For example, a most recent event in Brooklyn unfortunately involved a train engineer falling asleep at a turn, derailing and flipping the train. Sleep apnea was later to be believed as the cause of this accident, although sleep test results have not been confirmed to date. However, Dr. Klein best captures the importance of October’s decision by saying, “Last year over 200,000 people on the roadways in this nation lost their lives due to sleepy drivers and now American roads will be safer and drivers can feel more confident in their safety.”
Since he received the award for The Finest Orthodontic Technician in the country given by Columbus Dental in 1986, he has worked for some of the pioneers in the orthodontic and sleep dentistry fields. He was the personal technician for the likes of Dr. Harold Gelb, Dr. Robert Ricketts, Dr. Ronald Roth, Dr. A. Paul Serrano, Dr. Clark Jones, Dr. Arthur Gaus, Dr. Joseph R. Cohen and Dr. Edward Spiegel. He has also taught orthodontic technicians at Arizona Institute of Technology for dental and medical careers. David has also been active on the Arizona State University Sports and Medicine team since 1991. He also received in 2012 a lifetime achievement award by the Gelb Academy as America’s greatest Orthodontic technician of all time. David can be reached at www.Gergensortho.com