Why should dentists treat sleep apnea?

Most of the time, people who have sleep apnea are not aware of their symptoms because they are asleep when they occur. If your patient is unaware of his or her sleep apnea, you may be able to identify particular physical symptoms. As a dentist, you play a crucial role in the diagnosing and treating sleep apnea. By understanding sleep apnea and by helping patients to treat sleep apnea, dentists can save many lives.

What is the negative effect of not treating sleep apnea?

Despite having clear signs and symptoms, many patients with obstructive sleep apnea go undiagnosed. In return, when a patient is finally diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), he or she has had obvious symptoms of the disorder for an average of seven years. During those seven years, patients report visiting their family physician about 17 times and a subspecialist about nine times.

When sleep apnea goes undiagnosed, patients begin to experience a range of worsening symptoms and health conditions. By properly educating yourself and your practice, you can better diagnose and treat sleep apnea in your patients, which helps improve their overall health.

What are the complications associated with sleep apnea?

Comorbidities of sleep apnea have been shown to include a number of health conditions, including an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes, and more. Let’s explore five health problems that are linked with sleep apnea:

  • High Blood Pressure. OSA can contribute to high blood pressure in people who have it due to frequent wakings at nighttime. This causes hormonal systems to go into overdrive, which results in high blood pressure levels.
  • Heart Disease. OSA can also lead to heart attacks, which can cause people to die in the middle of the night due to low oxygen or the stress of waking up frequently during sleep.
  • Type 2 Diabetes. Sleep apnea is very common among people with type 2 diabetes, which can also lead to obesity.
  • Acid Reflux. While there is no proof that sleep apnea causes acid reflux or persistent heartburn, it has been shown that people with sleep apnea do complain of acid reflux. As a result treatment of sleep apnea appears to improve acid reflux and vice versa.
  • Obesity. The addition of weight raises the risk of sleep apnea, while losing weight can help cure sleep apnea.

What is the financial burden of sleep apnea?

Sleep loss and sleep apnea affect an individual’s performance, safety and quality of life.  Almost 20 percent of all serious car crash injuries happen because of driver sleepiness, independent of alcohol. Additionally, sleep loss and sleep disorders have a significant economic impact. The high costs of untreated sleep apnea are far more costly than what happens when delivering adequate treatments.

Each year, we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on direct medical costs associated with doctor visits, hospital services, prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs.  When compared to healthy individuals, those who suffer from sleep loss and sleep disorders are less productive. These individuals also experience an increased health care utilization and an increased likelihood of accidents.

It is important to treat sleep apnea as a dentist. If you treat sleep apnea, you can help to improve your patients’ overall health and well-being.

It’s all about the sleep apnea facts

As dentists, we want to know everything we can about how to treat our patients. And as dental sleep medicine specialists, that means the sleep apnea facts. To help you better understand the needs for providing our patients with sleep apnea treatment, I have compiled some helpful–and interesting–facts.

Here are some sleep apnea facts you can bring back to your team and your patients.

Undiagnosed sleep apnea

Despite having clear signs and symptoms, many patients with obstructive sleep apnea go undiagnosed. The negative effects of not treatment sleep apnea are evident:

  • On average, a patient goes 7 years without proper treatment.
  • During those 7 years, patients visit their family physician about 17 times and subspecialists about 9 times.
  • Undiagnosed sleep apnea causes worsening of symptoms and health conditions.

Health complications exist

Comorbidities of sleep apnea have been shown to include a number of health conditions, including:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Disease
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Acid Reflux
  • Obesity

Performance, safety and quality of life

Sleep loss and sleep apnea affect an individual’s performance, safety and quality of life – causing a financial burden on healthcare and productivity.

  • Almost 20% of all serious car crash injuries in the general population are associated with driver sleepiness.
  • When sleep apnea is not treated, it is far more costly than it would be to deliver adequate treatments.
  • Each year, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on direct medical costs.
  • Compared to healthy individuals, those who suffer from sleep loss and sleep disorders are less productive.
  • Today, most patients do not go under surgery for treatment. Instead, most are treated with an oral appliance as the leading form of sleep apnea treatment due to their convenience and ease of use.
  • The availability of custom-made oral appliances ensures accuracy and the best results.
  • The largest numbers of patients that suffer from sleep apnea are in the mild to moderate categories, which should be treated with oral appliances.
  • Understanding the importance of oral appliance therapy is vital in the treatment of sleep apnea.

Incorporating sleep apnea treatment into your practice, helps improve the services you offer in addition to helping improve your patients’ overall health.

Guidelines for choosing blog post topics

The best part about blogging is that your topics are limitless. This means you can write about just about anything that relates to you, your practice, important events, etc. Be sure to choose what people want to hear. An easy way to determine good topic choices is to think of questions that your patients commonly ask. You can use your blog as a way to answer each of these questions. And your patients can then visit your blog for answers to those questions. Let’s find out more about choosing blog post topics and making it work for you.

Do your research

When choosing blog post topics, search for other blogs in your industry. Look at popular blog posts to get other blog ideas. Viewing what other blogs are posting can help give you a good idea of what your industry likes to talk about and read. Additionally, in the past your blog and press releases were separate areas.

However, blogs can now often be a better choice than releasing a press release. By using your blog for not only educational information, but to announce new procedures, upcoming events and other newsworthy topics, you can complete a well-rounded blog that reaches your patients.

Look forward to blogging

Blogging might feel forced at first, but over time you may begin to look forward to blogging and may even leave yourself notes as you think of new topics to share with your patients. Blogging is fun and can significantly improve your web presence and credibility, so start now! You will find that the rewards of blogging are worth that extra effort.

Remain active online

I owe my success to active blogging. You might be thinking to yourself, “But Dr. Patel, you are always on the road or helping patients. Where do you find the time?”  An active and up-to-date blog takes a lot of work, but it shows that you are an expert in Dental Sleep Medicine and other areas of dentistry. While I understand how you may not have enough time due to your busy schedule, I personally utilize a freelance blogger, Sara Berg. Through her efforts and help I have been able to maintain an active, engaging blog for my patients and other dentists.

I highly encourage you to do the same in order to maintain an educational blog for your practice! If you are blogging, how do you choose your blog post topics? I’d love to learn how you make it work too!

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.