Making a Monumental Difference: Sports Stars Spread Sleep Awareness



having a passion for treating sleep apnea in your practice is like being a world-class golfer holding your favorite club. You’re ready to hit that perfect shot – but despite all you know, all your practice and preparation, you still need a ball to hit and a target to aim at.
You are ready to treat sleep patients, and you’ve gotten your team systems in place. You have the knowledge – you need patients (the target) and oral appliances (the ball, in this analogy) to be able to make the difference in health that’s driven you so far.
This story is about the oral appliances, and how critical support from our industry partners makes it possible to provide therapy. Beyond creating the Sleep Herbst, EMA, TAPs, or any of the other 100 or so devices, though, have you thought you could use the passion evident in the dedicated professionals who support us? Can you see a connection between what they do and maybe the patient in front of you that you are trying to convince to get diagnosed?
It’s fair to say there are few in the profession with more passion for connecting people with treatment than David Gergen. By 2008 he had spent over 30 years improving jaw and tooth function by making orthodontic appliances. By servicing and training under a number of the field’s leading providers, including Dr. Harold Gelb, Dr. Robert Ricketts, Dr. A. Paul Serrano and Dr. Edward Spiegel, Gergen had raised the standard of orthodontic appliance. His innovations brought him Top Dental Lab Technician in the Country honors. It wasn’t enough for someone driven to excel; he looked around and realized that he had friends and family with obstructive sleep apnea who were completely untreated. They had been diagnosed and given CPAP, with many unable to comply with the therapy. They were risking all of the negative impact of not breathing well while asleep. Always a sports fan, Gergen knew the story of Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles who passed in 2004 due to complications from untreated sleep apnea. Reggie White and Roy Green were team mates on the Philadelphia Eagles. The biggest star in the city at that time had just been traded from Philadelphia 76ers to the Phoenix Suns, Charles Barkley. All three of these superstars knew each other very well. David, knowing he needed to be part of a solution so his friends would not suffer the same fate, put these two related issues together and changed the course of his life’s work.
It was while working for the greatest dentists in the country Gergen learned the technique of supporting the airway by using an acrylic appliance to hold the jaw slightly forward while the patient is asleep. The device is small, easy to wear, and can be very effective in opening the airway. It rapidly became obvious that this was a therapy that needed a little promotion – something that is successful, easy to make and for patients to use. Patients loved it and tended to wear them all night, every night. Obstacles to overcome included medical practitioners who do not have a good understanding of the workings of the jaws and the effect that minor repositioning can have on the upper airway. Dentists also had a great deal to learn about the upper airway and their role in treating the disease diagnosed by the sleep docs.

sleep awareness
1. Herbst sleep appliance 2. Marcus Allen, Mack Newton and Roy Green 3. Roy Green, Executive Director NFLPA’s Professional Athletes Foundation Andre Collins and David Gergen

While looking for a way to make an impact, longstanding friendships with current and former sports stars resulted in conversations about their sleep breathing problems. Several players fit the same profile found across the country in countless dental offices – people at risk for sleep breathing problems, diagnosed but given only one solution. What was required was a high-quality solution.
Professional athletes are used to standards set at the highest levels – this prompted Gergen’s Orthodontic Lab, already a top tier appliance creator, to carry on at that level while embracing sleep apnea device fabrication. The Sleep Department was added in 2009 and in 2012 was one of only two labs in the country authorized to make Medicare-approved devices. Over 100,000 custom appliances now serve sports stars, including legendary NBA and NFL athletes, and vastly more everyday people, helping them to better health.
How can you use this in your practice? Every dentist and other medical professional struggles to help their patients see their risk factors for disease – we can see it but they don’t. We know that men carry a greater risk of OSA, they tend not to see the doctor, and they deny signs and symptoms clearly observed by others. (Stereotypes come from somewhere!) How can the dentist connect with these guys?
Sports! If your patients won’t listen to their spouse, or you, maybe they will listen to NFL Superstar Roy Green or NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley! Charles and Roy are both extremely excited to continue educating and assist in the fight against sleep apnea.
Roy Green says, “It all begins with eight simple questions, now, that’s not too painful, is it?”

  1. Do you snore loudly?
  2. Do you often feel tired, fatigued, or sleepy during daytime
  3. Has anyone observed you stop breathing during your sleep?
  4. Do you have or are you being treated for high blood pressure?
  5. Are you over weight?
  6. Age over 50?
  7. Do you have a large neck?
  8. Gender male?

4. Dave Krieg, David Gergen and Warren Moon 5. Mike Haynes, David Gergen and Dr. Archie Roberts at the NFLPA office
4. Dave Krieg, David Gergen and Warren Moon 5. Mike Haynes, David Gergen and Dr. Archie Roberts at the NFLPA office

“If you say yes to 3 or more questions go get a sleep test”. Gergen and Green spent a significant amount of their own time and money traveling the country working with veterans groups and football fans before they realized just how impacted the retired professional football community is by sleep apnea and related co morbidities including diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke. Charles Barkley is one of the most influential and outspoken celebrities in the country, and is very enthusiastic to add his charisma to the campaign. Charles is, and has always been, very concerned about the health of all current and former athletes. 2015 will prove to be a turning point in the identification and treatment of obstructive sleep apnea based on the efforts of this trio they are committed to raise awareness of this disease.
Look for publicity from Gergen’s Orthodontic Lab and the Pro Player Health Alliance, the partnership that Gergen and Green created, to help you connect with your patients. Getting celebrities involved with health care, making a positive statement, counters the more often reported bad behavior and scandal. It might even get the attention of that high risk gentleman in your chair!
Some retired athletes are more than just celebrities: Dr. Archie Roberts was an NFL quarterback and went on to become a cardiologist and Founder of the Living Heart Foundation. Its HOPE (Heart, Obesity, Prevention, Education) Program is a comprehensive obesity, pulmonology, sleep, dentistry and overall health campaign sponsored by the NFL Player’s Association’s Professional Athletes Foundation, which strives to promote healthy lifestyles among former NFL players. According to a study by the New England Journal of Medicine, up to a third of NFL players suffer from sleep apnea and as many as 60% of NFL linemen may suffer from the disorder.
dsp-quote-david-gergenFormer players are not different from your patients in their ability to tolerate PAP therapy or wish for a simpler solution. Gergen has used his sports connections to position his Sleep Lab as the leading promoter of sleep apnea awareness in the athletic community. Through the “Tackling Sleep Apnea” Campaign, which was launched in 2012, over 200 retired NFL players including Roy Green, Derek Kennard, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Mike Haynes and many more legends have received obstructive sleep apnea treatment with a sleep appliance made by Gergen’s Orthodontic Lab while using their position to spread awareness and urge treatment.
Tony Dorsett, a former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Famer, had claimed before being diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea to be “snoring like a freight train.” Then he received his sleep Herbst custom fitted by Gergen’s Orthodontic Lab. Now that he breathes well while he sleeps he proudly boasts “Superman ain’t got nothin on me.” He gives credit to Pro Player Health Alliance, David Gergen, the LHF HOPE program and Gergen’s Orthodontic Lab for being able to sleep well
at night.
sleep awareness
Nesby Glas-gow, Warren Moon, David Gergen, Mark Walczak, and Dave Krieg

To help dentists meet this health challenge, David also has invested in state-of-the-art digital technology including an advanced 3D printer and support for digital impressions. Since 2011, he has also sponsored well-received educational courses with a wide variety of speakers. Since 2013, Gergen has aligned with the American Sleep and Breathing Academy to connect dentists, physicians, respiratory, therapists and sleep technologists in education and collaborative care. The Academy’s vision is to create convenient, affordably priced and highly reviewed classes, uniting both the medical and dental sides of the sleep community. These classes can be taken online or in person.
You may be ready to take a swing at sleep disorders in your practice. Celebrities like famous athletes are spreading the word – getting your patient’s attention, creating ‘targets’ for you to aim your efforts towards. Dedicated professionals like David Gergen are out there stirring things up to raise awareness, all the while making the highest quality oral appliances for you to tee up. Fore!

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