2018-03-25 / Insight

Sleep apnea can increase risk of heart attack, stroke

BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 • npugliese@mihomepaper.com


Dr. Tom Jackson practiced dentistry for 26 years in the Marlette area before relocating to Lapeer, where his practice has been in operation for 20 years. His focus now, though, is sleep apnea. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Dr. Tom Jackson practiced dentistry for 26 years in the Marlette area before relocating to Lapeer, where his practice has been in operation for 20 years. His focus now, though, is sleep apnea. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese LAPEER — Luan and Dr. Tom Jackson care about the way you sleep. Or more specifically, they care about what happens when you lay your head on the pillow and drift off into dreamland.

Operating the Sleep Center adjacent to Jackson Dental on 456 S. Main St. in Lapeer, the couple have helped dozens in the Lapeer area diagnose snoring, but what they’re really passionate about is sleep apnea — a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts, often unknown to those suffering.

“A lot of people with sleep apnea snore, but just because you snore doesn’t mean you have sleep apnea,” said Tom Jackson. “But they’re both because of constricted airways, and that’s the key for treating it.” It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80 percent of the cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea undiagnosed. According to Jackson, the severity of sleep apnea is charted by how many “episodes” occur per hour, or instances when a person stops breathing for ten seconds or longer. While a normal sleeper will experience zero to five episodes per hour during the course of a normal sleep, a person with mild sleep apnea will stop breathing for more than ten seconds between five and 15 times in an hour. Moderate sleep apnea sufferers experience episodes 15-30 times, and severe cases will experience episodes more than 30 times per hour.


Luan Jackson shows off a Herbst device, a wearable tool meant to pull the jaw forward during sleep to curb snoring and alleviate pressure on airways. According to Luan, wearing the device has eliminated her snoring. “I discovered that I sleep a lot better with it in,” she said. “When your lower jaw is pulled outward, it works.” 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Luan Jackson shows off a Herbst device, a wearable tool meant to pull the jaw forward during sleep to curb snoring and alleviate pressure on airways. According to Luan, wearing the device has eliminated her snoring. “I discovered that I sleep a lot better with it in,” she said. “When your lower jaw is pulled outward, it works.” Photo by Nicholas Pugliese If untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to a great increase in the risk of heart attack and stroke, said Jackson, and severe sleep apnea sufferers are more than six times more likely to develop serious cancers. While around ten percent of sleep apnea cases are due to a neurological issue, the vast majority are mechanical in nature, caused by airways becoming obstructed during sleep. “The 90 percent is it’s basically when we put our heads back at night, the muscles and jaw relax, and it just shuts down the airway,” he said. In addition, Jackson said that excess weight and advanced age can contribute to sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a very serious issue, said Jackson, but the majority of cases are never diagnosed, or are ignored. “Any death in the sleep, I’d say 95 percent is a result of sleep apnea,” he said. “(During sleep) with the heart and organs resting, why would you die? With sleep apnea, it’s the opposite, like an engine grinding along without oil.”

Jackson has been a dentist for 46 years, the last two decades at his practice in Lapeer, but sleep apnea has been of particular interest to him. Jackson himself is a sleep apnea sufferer, and said that when diagnosed, he was experiencing more than 60 episodes per hour. He’s been wearing a CPAP machine for 16 years. A CPAP machine, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device, is a form of a positive airway pressure ventilator, which applies mild air pressure on a continuous basis to keep the airways continuously open in people who are able to breathe spontaneously on their own.

“CPAP is the gold standard for treating apnea,” said Jackson. Proscribed to people experiencing moderate to severe cases of sleep apnea, a CPAP machine could very well save a person’s life, said Jackson. “There are so many people who are dying or get serious illnesses because of sleep apnea,” he said.

“Just because you snore doesn’t mean you have sleep apnea, but if you are a chronic snorer, get checked out,” said Jackson. “With dentistry we say that we’re saving personalities, but with sleep apnea over here, we’re saving lives.” To contact Dr. Tom Jackson, call 810-667-3535 at Jackson Dental, or 810- 664-4641 for the direct sleep line.

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