For centuries, American dentists have concentrated solely on their narrow trade. While dentists are trained medical professionals, going through much of the same college coursework as those doctors who become physicians and other specialists, dentist’s extensive medical knowledge has often been used solely for the purpose of treating problems of the teeth.
Dr. Avi Weisfogel, a New Jersey dentist who had long had his own practice, slowly came to see this as a potential waste of human capital. Dr. Weisfogel reasoned that, since so many patients came to see their dentists long before they saw their physicians, dentists were in a uniquely favorable position to diagnose and even potentially treat serious ailments, while they were still in their earliest, most treatable stages.
Dr. Weisfogel set about systematically researching all of the major diseases with etiologies in the head, neck and mouth region to find what patients could profit most from the early diagnosis of diseases which were otherwise likely to slip through the cracks. Eventually, he settled on sleep apnea as being the disease for which the highest marginal gain could be achieved.
Sleep apnea had long plagued the population of the United States. Many people assume that it is a relatively benign disease favored by malingerers, like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sleep apnea involves the temporary cessation of normal respiration during sleep. This can wreak havoc with every major body system. All organs need a constant perfusion of oxygen-rich blood in order to function. Even temporary lulls in the delivery of life-sustaining oxygen to organs such as the brain and heart can have devastating consequences. For this reason, sleep apnea is strongly correlated with nearly every major cause of death. People with severe sleep apnea are very sick.
Armed with this knowledge, Dr. Weisfogel set out to found Dental Sleep Masters, a company dedicated to training dentists in the recognition and treatment of sleep apnea. This effort has proven so successful that many dentists who have passed through his seminars have actually quit their traditional dental practices in favor of sleep dentistry. Dr. Weisfogel has, thus, changed the way that both dentistry and sleep medicine are practiced in the United States.