Sleep Apnea Could Raise Cancer Risk

A serious sleep disorder, sleep apnea affects an estimated 22 million Americans, many of whom don’t even realize they have it. What’s more, of those with sleep apnea, nearly 80 percent have what is considered moderate to severe sleep apnea, and most of those cases are considered obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the affected person lies down and pressure on their throat causes a blockage that prevents breathing. This can cause the affected person to wake repeatedly, toss and turn, and stop and restart breathing throughout the night. Persons with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea often wake feeling tired and remain sluggish and fatigued throughout the day. But now, a recent study from the May 20 issue of the European Respiratory Journal has presented more bad news for sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea, and doctors are hoping patients pay attention.

The report, which follows a study by Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, found that women who suffer from severe obstructive sleep apnea are more likely than their male counterparts, and those without severe obstructive sleep apnea, to develop cancer.

“The study did not specify a type of cancer these patients are at an increased risk of developing,” says Dr. Allison Lesko, a dentist who treats sleep apnea in her Fort Collins, Colorado, practice. “Just that patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea are at an increased risk of developing any cancer.”

That’s because researchers theorize that low blood oxygen levels caused by the obstructive breathing may encourage the growth of certain types of cancers.
But don’t panic just yet, says Lesko. There is help.

“If you have sleep apnea, or you or a partner thinks you may have sleep apnea, you owe it to yourself to get evaluated by a dentist or doctor who specializes in sleep apnea treatment,” Lesko says.

Lesko says treatment is easier than many people realize.

“There are many different types of sleep apnea therapy,” she says. “You may have already heard of continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, therapy, which constantly ventilates air into your airways as you sleep. But there are also other options such as sleep orthotics your dentist can customize for you that reposition the jaw and essentially prop the airway open.”

According to Lesko, these treatments can help keep your oxygen levels high and hopefully reduce your risk of developing those cancers identified in the study.

“The researchers were not able to definitively say whether or not sleep apnea was responsible for the cancer, but just knowing the risk could be there will hopefully be motivation enough to seek treatment,” she says.

Childhood Oral Health Matters

A recent study from the University of Helsinki in Finland has revealed some startling data that may make parents think twice about their children’s oral health routines. The study followed children from age 8 to around age 35, monitoring their oral health as well as overall health for the duration of the study. What the results revealed was nothing short of ominous.

It began in 1980, when University of Helsinki researchers examined the overall oral health of 755 8-year-olds. Of those 755 children, only 33 (less than 5 percent) had no signs of oral health problems, including cavities, bleeding gums, periodontal pockets and pre-existing fillings. The rest of the children in the study had at least one of these oral health issues present, some with two, three and even four present at once. In fact, the largest percent of children – 37 percent – had all four issues present.

Fast forward to 2007, and the 8-year-olds are now about 35 years old. The university researchers looked at the overall health of the participants of the original study and found that the children who had some kind of dental problem present at age 8 were a staggering 87 percent more likely to develop a condition called subclinical atherosclerosis, or hardened arteries, and the precursor to serious heart conditions such as high blood pressure.

Furthermore, the 37 percent of participants who exhibited all four of the dental maladies measured in the initial 1980 study were 95 percent more likely to have subclinical atherosclerosis.

Dr. Allison Lesko is a dentist in Fort Collins, Colorado. She says the study once again proves how vital excellent oral health is in relation to overall health and wellness.

“We see study after study, time and time again, that shows oral health contributes to total body health,” says Lesko. “Poor oral health can contribute to diabetes, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, periodontal disease – and this is just based on adult teeth. This new study shows that it doesn’t just start with the adult teeth. It goes much farther back.”

Lesko says problems arise when parents think that baby teeth are “just baby teeth” and are therefore disposable.

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that baby teeth don’t matter because they fall out,” says Lesko. “But this study proves that baby teeth are vitally important and their care or lack thereof can affect your overall health in the future.”

New Study Shows Children’s Dental Shortcomings

When it comes to kids’ oral health, many a study has been released on the impact of oral hygiene on their overall well-being – namely their ability to focus on and attend school regularly. That’s because time and time again those studies have shown that when a child is suffering from dental pain, they can’t focus during class time, and they miss more school due to untreated dental pain and dental visits to address that pain. Now, a new study has been released showing just how prevalent poor oral care in children really is, as seen from the eyes of their parents. These sobering statistics seem to echo what previous studies have shown – that we are failing at children’s oral health care in America.

The newest study was published by top oral health insurer Delta Dental’s Delta Dental Plans Association, a nonprofit organization that represents Delta’s 39 families of independent companies. The study surveyed 1,481 parents of children under the age of 12.

In the survey, parents were asked to rate their children’s oral health and hygiene. The group that scored the highest marks on this question? Children under the age of 3. That’s because parents of children this age by and large are still in control of their children’s hygiene habits and thus better able to give their children a higher score. Unfortunately, that high score wasn’t very high at all, with just 30 percent of parents rating their young child as having excellent oral health.

The results get worse as the children’s ages increase. Just 21 percent of the 3- to 5-year-old group was rated by parents as having excellent oral hygiene. The 6- to 9-year-old age group got a 17 percent excellence rating, and the 10- to 12-year-old group got just 14 percent. So, what’s going on that these numbers are so low – and, even worse, are decreasing so rapidly as children age?

The Delta Dental Plans Association attributes the decrease to parents relinquishing control of their child’s toothbrush with age. While children in the birth to age 3 group get their teeth brushed by mom or dad, as they age they are given more responsibility to care for their teeth on their own, and that’s where the problems begin.

So, what can be done to correct this problem? For starters, parents must take more time to ensure their children are brushing and flossing properly. Yes, one of the joys of raising children is watching them grow into independent people, but when it comes to oral health, if they’re not ready to take the reigns themselves, there’s no shame in helping them out a little bit longer.

As for parents who are caring for their child’s teeth themselves and still experiencing difficulties, speak to Dr. Lesko for some tips on how to help make oral hygiene easier for your child and yourself. She can be reached at 970-812-0355.

Selfies and Oral Health

You hear about them all the time in the news – people getting in trouble for taking them, people getting hurt while taking them, even people taking lessons on how to take them. They’re those photos we snap of ourselves with our smartphones known as “selfies.” But while some people are quick to decry the selfie culture that we as a country have adopted, selfies, for all their controversy, can still do some good in the world.

A recent study conducted with researchers in India and at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine found that tooth-brushing behaviors changed when participants took selfies while brushing their teeth.

“First the participants were re-trained on how to brush their teeth properly by the researchers in the study,” says Fort Collins, Colorado, dentist Dr. Allison Lesko, “and then they were sent home with instructions to record themselves via video or selfie brushing their teeth.”

The participating university students submitted two weeks’ worth of brushing selfies to the researchers in the project for analysis, and what the researchers found was nothing short of fascinating.

“They found slight modifications in the photos and techniques captured in the selfies,” says Lesko.

So what do researchers think motivated these changes?

“The researchers believe the participants modified their techniques because they knew someone was watching, but also because they were actually trying to improve their brushing technique to the new way they were taught to brush in the study,” she says.

According to Lesko, that’s good news.

“It showed the researchers that these participants wanted to make positive changes, and that the snapping of the selfies was kind of a motivator to stick with that – because they knew in a sense that someone was watching them while they brushed,” Lesko says.

Lesko says that while the study was small, there are still some very important takeaways. For example, the idea that photographing yourself could help positively reinforce a new behavior such as a better way to brush your teeth. Another benefit?

“You can bring those selfies to the dentist with you and have your own dentist evaluate your brushing technique,” she says. “If you’re doing something wrong or inefficient, we can give you pointers or lessons and you can conduct your own home study like the one that Case Western conducted and see if taking selfies while you brush changes anything about your own brushing technique.”