ORLANDO, FL – The actual National Football League (NFL) Pro Bowl game is famously uncompetitive. Instead of scoring touchdowns, the main goal among players is largely to stay uninjured.
Retired players who arrive for related festivities are also focusing on their health, but unlike their active gridiron colleagues, they face a variety of ailments. Thanks to the Pro Player Health Alliance (PPHA), an arm of the American Sleep & Breathing Academy (ASBA), retired players have a convenient opportunity to be screened for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disorder that often goes untreated for far too long.
Ronald Rosenbaum, DMD, PA, owner of Cosmetic, Restorative & Preventive Dentistry, Pembroke Pines, Fla., returned to this year’s Pro Bowl in Orlando, Fla., once again to educate players about the dangers of OSA. Thanks to relationships built between ASBA president David Gergen and the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA), dentists are now a mainstay at the Pro Bowl’s health screening events, and OSA awareness continues to grow.
“There were even more players coming through this year than last,” says Rosenbaum, who has a sleep side of the business called Sleep With a Smile Inc., which has allowed him to perfect his sleep medicine craft. “Dave Gergen put on a great event. There was quite a long line of players who were waiting to see us, because a lot of these guys are suffering from sleep apnea on a daily basis, and they don’t even know they have it.”
Unfortunately, the same grit that gets players to the epicenter of America’s most popular game can also delay their OSA treatment. Taught to push through exhaustion and ignore physical frailties, players may think they can deal with the effects of OSA. Rosenbaum sees the mindset, but believes it can be overcome through diligent education.
“It can sometimes be difficult with the players,” Rosenbaum says. “Education is the big thing. That’s not just with NFL players; that’s everyone. We help them understand that if they’re not using the CPAP machine they still need a treatment of some sort to facilitate proper breathing. That’s an opportunity to talk about oral appliances and continuing to educate.”
Rosenbaum has worked with Sleep Group Solutions (SGS) and Rani Ben-David, SGS’ president and founder, to hone his craft. Part of that training includes use of a pharyngometer to measure the airway. “The pharyngometer sets us apart from a lot of the practices,” Rosenbaum explains. “The oral appliance has been around for years, but with the pharyngometer I’m able to have patients or players basically breathe into a tube so I can reposition the lower jaw into different positions and see how we can change the airway and how the appliance can make a difference.”
Once players are getting treatment, Rosenbaum sees the gratitude because, “It changes how they sleep and feel.” Beyond the health screening, Rosenbaum confirms that The Pro Bowl is indeed a fun event. While the football side was “pretty much rained out this year,” he did get to spend time with the players and get to know them.
“My staff and I are a lively bunch, so we tend to be the area [at the screening] that the groups gather around,” he says. “We try to keep it light and entertaining while getting impressions taken right there and then. Not everyone is a fan of dentists, so we have to keep these guys calm and make sure they understand what we’re doing. We had great hospitality and Dave and his team again helped to put on an excellent event for the second year in a row.”
Education and Acceptance
Among physicians, acceptance of oral appliances has not always been high, but Rosenbaum reports that respect levels are “getting there.” He bases the assessment on reactions he gets to presentations, where some physicians begin to understand the power of oral appliances.
By the end of the presentation, they are “surprised” and curious about the device’s potential. “I believe that dental sleep medicine is gaining traction with the medical community,” Rosenbaum says. “I have had positive responses in my trials and in approaching the medical community. A lot of these physicians will have CPAP failures and think that is basically that. They don’t realize there is another option and that a dentist can make this available to patients. I keep going back to the ‘education’ word because it’s what we have been trying to do for a few years now.”
As for the Pro Bowl in 2020, Rosenbaum and Gergen are hopeful that awareness will be even stronger, with even more physicians and players embracing the benefits of oral appliances. Rosenbaum hints that pediatric treatment could even be more prevalent next year.
He explains: “I’d like to talk with Dave Gergen about possibly treating the children of some of these NFL players, or even their grandchildren. This whole problem starts at a young age. A child snores, grinds teeth, sucks on a thumb, and it all causes constriction of the pallet and jaws, and the child becomes more susceptible to sleep apnea.”