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.

Generate Marketing

When it comes to “putting your practice out there,” you don’t need a marketing guru to tell you what to do. By definition, marketing is “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.” However, traditional marketing should not be your focus. With today’s marketing continually advancing, we want to look deeper than the simple advertising rouse that many companies still attempt. Today, especially with dental offices, we want to utilize marketing in a way that we can further engage with our patients. For your dental office, marketing should include social media management, content marketing and patient outreach.

Social Media Management

For starters, let’s take a brief look at social media management. We have previously mentioned the importance of a presence on social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter and Google+. In terms of marketing, social media is the way of the future. Through these different channels, your dental office can reach patients on a whole new level. From simple office updates to practice specials, you can utilize social media tools for all of your marketing needs.

Want to announce the availability of dental sleep medicine in your office? Spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and your active blog. Want to let your patients know there is a new member to your staff? Share it on social media! Have important, educational information? Your social network is the key to sharing all of this information and is your greatest asset in your marketing plan.

Content Marketing

By now you might have heard that “Content is King,” but what does that mean? As our society continues to shift toward the Internet, so does your marketing plan. And, a large part of that plan should be content. What does this mean? This means your website, social media channels, educational blog, press releases and other sources for generating online content.

The biggest source for your content marketing can be found right on your website. From the pages to the blog, your office can utilize content marketing to its fullest here. The content you should include on your website should be:

  • Information about your office
  • Educational pages
  • Services offered
  • Contact
  • Interactive blog
  • Doctor and staff bios

 
When generating your content, it is important to provide unique, quality content rather than focusing on quantity. And, most of all do not include duplicate content on your site or blog—Google can tell. With quality content on your website and blog, your practice can become easily searchable for patients.

Patient Outreach

The patient outreach portion of your marketing plan can include a variety of ideas and practices. Try to include a Newsletter, in-office information, an email list, etc. Whatever you can do to further reach your patients is beneficial. A newsletter allows you to share information about your practice or educational information by sending it right to your patients’ email. This creates a new way for you to share the most important information with them without having to rely on social media or content on your website. By offering an email list for your patients to join, you can send the information you want them to see right away directly to them.

Establish your practice with a marketing plan that can successfully reach your patients. If you have any questions on marketing or other ways you can reach your patients, contact Dr. Mayoor Patel for more information.