Reintroducing the dental team for sleep apnea care

We have discussed this in the past, but I think it is time to bring this back to the surface. It is time to reintroduce the dental team for sleep apnea care! When it comes to providing your patients with dental sleep medicine services, it is important to understand that this isn’t a one person job. It requires a team-based care approach, which means every dental team member plays a role in sleep apnea care.

Dentist you play a vital role in dental sleep medicine, but each member of your dental team also needs to evolve with the new roles and responsibilities to help patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  From the receptionist and billing coordinator to the hygienist and dental assistant, the office plays an integral role in the screening and managing for potential patients who might not know they suffer from OSA.

Let’s take a look at the dental team for sleep apnea care and each person’s role at your dental office:  

The front office

The first member of the dental team for sleep apnea care is the front office staff. This is the face of your office because they are the ones who greet your patients at every visit. There are two pathways for patients: One is identifying a patient in the dental office and sending out for a diagnosis, while the other is referred in from a sleep doctor or advertising efforts. Remember, if they come to the dentist for services, then an order from a physician is required before oral appliance fabrication can be completed. Due to this, the front office holds an important role and must fax a request or educate the patient of the need for a referral from a sleep physician. Beginning with the initial phone call, the front office team will ask patients that are referred to the office to bring a copy of their sleep study, medical insurance information and any other important information needed.

The billing coordinator

Once a patient is a candidate for oral appliance therapy, verification and, in some cases, predetermination is initiated to determine benefits of coverage for treatment. This is where the billing coordinator steps in. The billing coordinator is essential in the treatment process to ensure every patient receives the appropriate benefits they deserve as determined by their insurance. By obtaining proper training , the billing coordinator can establish proper referral, communication and medical billing protocols—more than just completing and sending claims.

The hygienist

Hygienists are looking for and eradicating periodontal diseases, while improving their patients’ overall oral health. At the same time, hygienists perform an array of other dental duties, including looking for cavities, oral health education and screening for oral cancer. As the first person your patients meet once in the dental chair, hygienists offer recommendations based on a patient’s individual needs, which might include advice on screening to rule out a sleep breathing issue.

While obstructive sleep apnea is not the first thing that comes to mind when visiting the dentist, the area of dental sleep medicine continues to advance. Initial screenings might identify patients that snore, feel tired all the time or know someone who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, yet never sought treatment. By screening and asking questions, dental hygienists will bring their findings to the dentist for further discussion—creating an opportunity for treatment and the possibility of a referral to a sleep physician.

The dental assistant

Working closely with the dentist is the dental assistant. The role of the dental assistant is just as important as the dentist. In this role, you will help the dentist by charting his findings, getting impressions and assisting in capturing the bite–this is the starting position for the oral appliance. Once the oral appliance is delivered to the office, the dental assistant will fit the device or assist the dentist in fitting the appliance, providing instruction, and informing patients on when and how to wear it.

The dentist

This is the main person on the dental team for sleep apnea care. As the dentist you have two roles in dental sleep medicine. After examination, to discuss with the patient that they may have a condition that needs to be tested; and determining if a patient is a candidate for oral appliance therapy. With two roles, dentists’ will either be recommending that patients visit a sleep doctor for diagnosis or treatment be based on a referral from a medical doctor, which is where the front office staff comes into play. If a patient is a candidate for oral appliance therapy, then the dentist will educate each patient on oral appliance therapy.

Each member of the dental team plays a vital role in implementing Dental Sleep Medicine. From the dentist to the front office staff, it is important to understand and execute your new roles when providing dental sleep medicine services for patients. With the unique opportunity to diagnose and treat sleep apnea, dentists should consider continuing education not only for themselves, but their entire dental staff as well.

You can take the next step toward healthy, happy patients be educating them on the different roles in dental sleep medicine.

New year, new web presence: Why blogging is important

With every new year comes new resolutions to make and keep. For 2019, I have something different for you to consider adding to the top of your list of resolutions: blogging. It doesn’t seem like something you should be worried about. However, blogging is important. As a dentist, blogging is a great resource to reach your patients. When patients see that you care, they care too. Start blogging today to share important health information. Here is why blogging is important and can help improve your practice’s patient panel.

It improves your web presence

A main reason why blogging is important is it contributes to your improved online presence. Updating your blog regularly helps your potential and established patients find you. It is also just as important for them to relate to you.

Blogging increases the chances your business will be found. But how does that happen? It happens because each new blog post you and your team writes creates a new indexable page. Not to mention, well-written and informative blog posts attract inbound links, giving your website a higher rank on search engines – this is where SEO improves.

It increases your credibility

Not only will you gain better visibility, but you can also gain increased credibility. If you consistently write content that is creative, helpful and relevant to your readers, you will start to be known as a “thought leader.” In other words, you will be someone who is viewed as an authority in their field, which helps you to earn trust as you work to convert blog readers into patients.

The availability of a blog helps you to create a trustworthy reputation with your patients. The more you update your blog and include important dental information, the more your patients will begin to trust you and go to you for all of their dental information needs. Active blogging helps you to establish yourself and your practice as an expert in your field – whether it is general dentistry, dental sleep medicine, or other topics of interest.

Prospective and established patients want to feel connected to you as their provider and to your entire practice. The more connected they feel, the more inclined they are to seek your advice. By blogging, you continue to serve your patients’ dental care needs outside of the office – your care doesn’t stop when the patient leaves your office.

Sleep apnea may predict mortality risk

It appears that the duration of abnormal breathing events may be a better predictor of mortality risk in both women and men. Patients with sleep apnea who have short interruptions in breathing while they sleep are at a higher risk for death than those with longer interruptions. This new information was found in a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

By understanding this new information, it can help dentists and physicians better prevent long-term mortality associated with obstructive sleep apnea. For those who have a sleep apnea diagnosis, it is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and, now, an increased risk of dying.

Apnea-hypopnea index for severity

Sleep specialists refer to the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) to determine the severity of sleep apnea. The severity of the AHI measurement can be linked to mortality and heart disease. However, AHI remains a coarse measurement of sleep apnea severity and is not a good risk predictor for women–AHI is largely based on data from men.

In this new study, not only does it matter how many breathing interruptions occur, but also how long each one lasts. Patients with the shortest apneas were 31 percent more likely to die during the study’s decade of follow-up with participants. This was true for both male and females.

Treating sleep apnea

The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure machine. However, many patients find that wearing a mask during sleep is uncomfortable. When this is the case, they choose not to use it, which can worsen sleep apnea symptoms.

Even if a patient only has mild or moderate sleep apnea, it is important for both men and women to undergo treatment. Short breathing interruptions require further attention and commitment to treatment.

Breathing through your nose may improve memory.

I recently read an article in the magazine Sleep Review and it was very interesting. In this article, it stated that breathing through your nose may actually improve memory. That really is great to hear and understand. This is based on a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. In this study, researchers examined the effect of respiration on consolidation of episodic odor memory.

How memory works with sleep

Both female and male participants encoded odors. This was followed by a one hour awake resting consolidation phase where they either breathed solely through their nose or mouth. Immediately after this phase, memory for odors was tested. Recognition memory saw a significant increase during nasal respiration compared with mouth respiration.

From this we see the first evidence that respiration directly impacts consolidation of episodic events. It also supports the idea that core cognitive functions are modulated by the respiratory cycle–adding to the influence of respiration on human perception and cognition.

While the study did not look at brain activity, it did suggest that nose breathing may facilitate communication between sensory and memory networks. This is because memories are replayed and strengthened during consolidation.

Encourage your patients to take deep breaths through their nose to help improve their memory. This can also help their stress levels. It is an all around good idea for their health and well-being.