Sex, race and financial factors affect rates of jaw surgery for sleep apnea

January 12, 2017

January 12, 2017 - Jaw advancement surgery is one of the most effective surgical treatments for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)--but it's less likely to be performed in men, racial/ethnic minorities, lower-income groups, and patients with Medicare coverage, reports a study in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery--Global Open®, the official open-access medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

"The nationwide study identified significant economic, racial, and gender differences between patients undergoing pharyngeal [throat] and jaw procedures for management of sleep apnea," according to the new research by Ravi K. Garg, MD, and colleagues of University of Wisconsin, Madison. "Awareness of these disparities may help guide efforts to improve patients' surgical options for sleep apnea."

Disparities Affect Use of Effective Jaw Surgery for Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common condition with a major impact on quality of life and other health outcomes. While continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the main treatment, surgery is an option for some patients.

Previous studies have suggested that jaw surgery (maxillomandibular advancement) provides greater improvement in sleep apnea than throat surgery (uvulo-palato-pharyngoplasty). Yet throat surgery continues to be much more frequently performed.

The researchers used a US hospital database to assess factors related to the choice of throat versus jaw surgery for OSA. Out of approximately 6,300 patients undergoing OSA operations between 2005 and 2012, only 5.6 percent underwent jaw surgery.

The data showed that jaw advancement surgery was significantly more likely for some groups of patients. Women were more likely to have jaw surgery than men, 6.8 versus 5.2 percent. Jaw surgery was also more frequently performed in white patients compared to racial/ethnic minorities: 7.2 versus 2.2 percent.

Patients undergoing jaw surgery were also more likely to have a higher annual income ($63,000 or greater) and to have private insurance (compared to Medicare).

On analysis adjusting for other factors, men were about one-third less likely to undergo jaw advancement surgery than women. Race/ethnicity was also a significant factor--Hispanic and Asian patients were about 40 percent less likely to have jaw surgery, while African American patients were 80 percent less likely. Medicare patients were about half as likely to undergo jaw surgery.

Differences in medical conditions other than OSA or in surgical complication rates did not explain the difference in jaw versus throat surgery. "This suggests that these operations have a similar overall safety profile and that complications are not the major factor impacting the choice of procedure," Dr. Garg and coauthors write.

If jaw advancement surgery is the more effective surgical option for OSA, why is it so less frequently performed than throat surgery? The reported differences by income and insurance coverage may reflect financial barriers to offering this option, Dr. Garg and colleagues believe. They write, "Plastic and oral surgeons are having increasing difficulty obtaining insurance coverage and receiving insufficient reimbursement for the amount of time invested in planning and performing these surgeries.

The racial and ethnic disparities are of special concern because of the increased rate of sleep apnea among minority patients. Dr. Garg and coauthors conclude: "These findings should help stimulate further research into patient and physician attitudes towards sleep surgery, barriers to treatment, and strategies to improve the spectrum of surgical options available to all patients with sleep-disordered breathing."

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery--Global Open® is published by Wolters Kluwer.
Click here to read "Disparities in Utilization of Jaw Surgery for Treatment of Sleep Apnea: A Nationwide Analysis."

Article: "Disparities in Utilization of Jaw Surgery for Treatment of Sleep Apnea: A Nationwide Analysis" (doi: 10.1097/GOX.0000000000001047)

About PRS Global Open

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery--Global Open ( is a companion journal to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons' flagship publication, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. PRS GO is an open access, rigorously peer-reviewed, international journal focusing on global plastic and reconstructive surgery. PRS GO educates and supports plastic surgeons globally to provide the highest quality patient care and maintain professional and ethical standards through education, research, and advocacy.

About ASPS

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is the largest organization of board-certified plastic surgeons in the world. Representing more than 7,000 physician members, the Society is recognized as a leading authority and information source on cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. ASPS comprises more than 94 percent of all board-certified plastic surgeons in the United States. Founded in 1931, the Society represents physicians certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery or The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

About Wolters Kluwer

Wolters Kluwer is a global leader in professional information services. Professionals in the areas of legal, business, tax, accounting, finance, audit, risk, compliance and healthcare rely on Wolters Kluwer's market leading information-enabled tools and software solutions to manage their business efficiently, deliver results to their clients, and succeed in an ever more dynamic world.

Wolters Kluwer reported 2015 annual revenues of €4.2 billion. The group serves customers in over 180 countries, and employs over 19,000 people worldwide. The company is headquartered in Alphen aan den Rijn, the Netherlands. Wolters Kluwer shares are listed on Euronext Amsterdam (WKL) and are included in the AEX and Euronext 100 indices. Wolters Kluwer has a sponsored Level 1 American Depositary Receipt program. The ADRs are traded on the over-the-counter market in the U.S. (WTKWY).

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