Note from Jackie Sanders, RDH chief editor: As dental professionals continue to learn more about the long-term effects of obstructed airways, more information is coming forward to educate us and make the public aware of the challenges. At AAOSH Collaboration Cures, I met Sydney and Victor Avis from Airway Revolution. Sydney suffered for many years from airway challenges and is now educating the public so they can work toward better health. We’re sharing their story in the hopes that our readers will gain insight into their patients who are challenged with airway issues.
From the time she was a child, Sydney Avis suffered from near-constant fatigue, anxiety, learning difficulties, and “not feeling like herself.” She consulted with numerous professionals, none of whom were able to get to the root of her symptoms.
Sydney said it took many years—and the luck of having a dentist for a father—to get answers and treatment about her airway disorder.
In 2020, Sydney and her father, Victor Avis, DDS, founded The Airway Revolution Foundation, a Staten Island-based 501(c)(3) with an overarching aim to broaden knowledge about airway disorders and ultimately, to effect change within dental and medical school curricula to teach health-care professionals about airway disorders and treatments.
In Sydney’s case, “my numbers did not scream ‘she has an airway disorder, there’s something wrong with her,’ she said in a video on the Airway Revolution website. “Continuously I was told ‘It’s mild, if anything. She should be fine.’”
Finally, when Sydney was 20, Victor began learning about airway disorders: “As I learned more, I began to see that the root cause of Sydney’s symptoms was very likely from an airway disorder that also caused sleep-disordered breathing,” he said. “During sleep this caused elevated sympathetic tone (fight or flight), and inadequate restful reparative deep sleep.”
They learned she’d need surgery to restore her health. Because of what she’d been through, she was immediately receptive and decided to share her experience for the sake of helping others.
In fact, Sydney’s situation has been filmed since 2016 by award-winning filmmakers from Moving Pictures who, according to Airway Revolution, “were fascinated by Sydney's health issues and the inability to find an answer that made her feel better.”
A mission to help millions
In time, the Battle to Breathe docuseries by Moving Pictures “grew into the mystery of the airway, starring the millions of people who were undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or untreated, and the dentists and physicians who were chasing down answers.” The docuseries is a cornerstone of Airway Revolution’s three-part “battle plan” that includes raising awareness, advancing university-based education, and elevating patient care.
“Our mission and focus is to help millions,” said Sydney, and in particular, to “make a large impact on [dental, medical, and allied health professionals] so that down the line, they’ll know how to diagnose and what to look for.”
“This is a huge issue for so many people and they don’t even know what to look for, they don’t even know that this exists,” she added.
The role of dental hygienists
Victor pointed to the important role of dental hygienists in helping diagnose airway disorders, saying “hygienists are poised to learn the signs and symptoms of airway disorders,” which in early childhood include malocclusion, tooth grinding, snoring, and mouth breathing, as well as learning challenges, behavioral issues, and anxiety. Common symptoms for adults include fatigue, snoring, mouth breathing, narrow palates, enlarged tonsils, anxiety, depression, heart disease, and more.
Sydney’s journey to health was long and complicated, and she says it was ultimately having a dentist father and the means to travel for and get appropriate care that changed her situation and life—but that’s not the case for many people suffering from an airway disorder, she said.
“It’s still very difficult to navigate or diagnose,” she said. “Parents don’t know what to look for, and [airway disorders] aren’t taught at any dental or medical school.”
And airway disorders are more prevalent, and with more types of people, than many clinicians realize. Victor noted that “part of the issue [diagnosing Sydney] was that Sydney didn’t fit the profile for someone with an airway disorder—she was young, fit, and had a healthy diet.”
But airway disorders don’t just affect “overweight 50-year-old men; airway disorders affect everybody,” said Sunil Wadhwa, DDS, director of orthodontics and pediatric dentistry at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, on Airway Revolution’s website—populations that include “young, thin women who also have these issues but present very differently.”
To learn more about helping patients with a diagnosed or suspected airway disorder, visit The Airway Revolution Foundation.