Give Your Patients the Gift of a Better Night’s Sleep

Let’s face it, snoring is not attractive, nor is it fun. When a person or their partner snores, it can significantly interrupt their night’s sleep, causing tense relationships. To help your patients give the gift of a better night’s sleep, it is important for your dental office to begin continuing education in the area of dental sleep medicine. Currently, it has been shown that 40% of the American population snores while as many as 16% has diagnosable sleep apnea. With more than 80% of sleep breathing disorders going undiagnosed, your practice can take the next step toward helping your patients and their family members get a better night’s sleep.

What to do

The first thing you should do is to educate yourself on the practice and particulars of dental sleep medicine today. By taking an introductory course on Dental Sleep Medicine you can get a robust introduction to the field of dental sleep medicine. There are several organizations that offer courses and annual meetings to meet the continuing education needs for integrating dental sleep medicine into your practice.

Next, it is important to create a relationship with your local sleep physician. While this may be out of your comfort zone, it is an essential part of gaining the resources you need to give your patients the gift of a better night’s sleep. Sleep physicians are the medical providers who diagnose sleep-disordered breathing and are responsible for the overall care of the patient. As an effective and successful dentist, you will work very closely with your patients’ sleep physician to provide optimal care.

Begin Now

Within your dental practice you can begin to integrate dental sleep therapies. You can do this by creating sleep-focused conversations with your patients. This can be as simple as adding a question to your hygienist’s initial consultation with the patient, such as Do you, or anyone in your family, snore? By adding this simple question, you can help uncover a large population that is in need of care and may not even realize it.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is heritable and can often be found in children of snoring parents, so taking charge now is important in their overall health. Asking a simple question at a patient’s appointment can be all you need to offer a successful treatment plan so they can get a better night’s sleep! Your patients’ families will be thanking you for this gift that keeps on giving!

The Hygienist’s Role in Dental Sleep Medicine

As a dental hygienist, you can save lives, too! Hygienists are typically concerned with looking for and eradicating periodontal disease, and improving their patients’ overall oral health. At the same time, hygienists are looking for cavities, screening for oral cancer, treating periodontal infections, and motivating patients to improve their oral health at home. Dental hygienists also educate patients on the links between periodontal disease and heart attacks, diabetes, and low birth-weight babies. As the first person your patients meet, hygienists offer recommendations based on a patient’s individual needs, which might include advice on sleep.

Sleep Apnea and Hygienists

When going to the dentist, the topic of sleep apnea is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, the area of dental sleep medicine continues to advance each year. Once a dental hygienist has received the proper education, training and CE certification in sleep apnea it is impossible to ignore the signs and symptoms of this potentially deadly condition. Initial screenings reveal that many of your patients might snore, feel tired all the time or knew someone who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, but had never sought treatment.

Educate Your Patients

In addition to educating your patients on oral diseases and complications, it is important to also educate them on the dangers of sleep apnea and what treatment options are available. Through the knowledge of sleep apnea, patients can become better informed of this potentially deadly disease before it worsens.

As a hygienist you can educate your patients on what sleep apnea is, as well as oral appliances. Explain to your patients how an oral appliance works and how it would be custom-made specifically for their individual needs so they can sleep with an unobstructed airway.

Incorporating dental sleep medicine into your practice is important. It is also extremely beneficial to make sure your dental hygienists receive the education they need to properly identify a problem, as well as establishing and maintaining an effective treatment plan.

Treating sleep apnea in the dental office helps to increase the quality of your patients’ lives. With the help of your hygienists, your patients will sleep better, wake up well rested, and their bed partners will thank you, too! Contact Dr. Mayoor Patel for more information on how your hygienists can also receive the educational training they need to accomplish to help them in identifying and treating sleep apnea in patients.

Working with a Sleep Physician

Another important relationship to hold and maintain is with a sleep physician. Sleep medicine in the dental office provides knowledge and understanding of sleep physiology and the life-threatening consequences of sleep-disordered breathing. Many at-risk patients are candidates for oral appliance therapy, and many patients who are suffering from sleep apnea can be treated by your dental practice working in an interdisciplinary relationship with a sleep physician.

The Sleep Physician’s Role

While you can provide your patients with oral appliance therapy, it is important to be aware that the first step in treatment is diagnosis. In order to properly diagnose your patients, a sleep physician is needed. A sleep physician is available to provide proper diagnosis of sleep apnea in patients. For this reason, it is important to establish a relationship with your local sleep physician. With each patient that displays signs of a sleep breathing disorder, you can send them to your local sleep physician for referral. Through a visit with the sleep physician, your patient will be monitored, tested and diagnosed. From there you can treat your patient with oral appliance therapy when appropriate.

Create a Bond

First, it is important to introduce your dental sleep medicine practice to your local sleep physician. This allows your local sleep physician to be aware of the services you provide, which helps in building a relationship for proper diagnosis and treatment planning. To create this working relationship, it is important that you give physicians and their staff confidence that your practice will provide exceptional care for their patients by speaking their language and sending standard medical SOAP format narratives that document your patients’ treatment—it demonstrates to physicians that your practice has established proper protocols.

Introducing yourself to your local sleep physician is a good way to establish a solid relationship because you are informing them that you are screening your dental patients for sleep apnea, and will be referring to them for an evaluation and diagnosis. The sleep physician will also play a large role in a follow-up sleep study after a patient has begun oral appliance therapy. Your local sleep physician will help to make sure the treatment is working, or provide treatment adjustments as needed.

Contact Dr. Mayoor Patel for more information on how you can establish a proper relationship with your local sleep physician and why it is so important for treating your patients.

Hygienists: Get Involved

Previously we have always touched base on the dentist’s role in the treatment of sleep apnea and craniofacial pain. However, hygienists play a crucial role in sleep apnea as well. Why? It’s simple. A hygienist is the one that spends the most time with patients once they enter the dental office. From routine dental cleanings to educational information, the hygienist plays a large role in the interaction with the patient, which means they may be the first to realize a patient might be suffering from sleep apnea.

Get Involved: Your Role

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that often requires long-term management. In the last 10 years, dentists and hygienists have become more involved in the treatment of sleep apnea, which continues to expand. Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed because most people who suffer from this condition don’t even realize they have it. Since patients visit their dentist more often than they visit their doctor, a dental hygienist plays a critical role in screening patients for sleep breathing disorders and caring for them.

A dental hygienist can play an important role in the recognition of sleep disorders by adding questions to the standard dental history. Just as you ask your patients questions about their dental health care, it is important to get a better understanding of their day-to-day habits that might not only include brushing and flossing. You might want to ask patients the following questions at their regular dental visits:

  • Do you snore?
  • Can you breathe through your nose?
  • Do you wake up tired in the morning?
  • Do you become extremely tired or fall asleep during the day?

 
Each question is important in determining signs and symptoms of sleep apnea in your patients. And, since you are the main point of contact for your patients twice a year, it is important to include this in your questions.

Dentists and Hygienists work as a team in the treatment and diagnosis of oral health care issues, which means sleep apnea, too. Start today, and get a better understanding of how you, the hygienist, can aide in the identification and treatment of sleep apnea in your patients.