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.