Now is the time to offer dental sleep medicine in your practice

With the release of a new hypertension guideline that includes advice on sleep apnea and new policy from the American Dental Association on obstructive sleep apnea screening for dentists, it is important to find ways to stand out from other practices. The first step in doing this is deciding to offer dental sleep medicine services. And if you are thinking about it now, you’re one step in the right direction!

Once you have decided to offer these services, you will need to complete continuing education courses and lectures to ensure you are able to provide your patients with proper care, as well as how to implement these services at your dental practice. To help you get going, here are some steps you can take to implement dental sleep medicine into your dental practice.

Complete continuing education

Once you have made the decision to offer dental sleep medicine services, it is important to start your education. This will help you to establish a practice that offers the best care possible.

Just as you completed dental school, you will need to do the same with dental sleep medicine. This will include lectures, seminars and shadowing and experienced dental sleep medicine specialist. No matter what, you are getting the experience and knowledge you need to provide superior care for your patients.

Maintain open communication

By integrating dental sleep medicine into your practice, it requires new behaviors and ways of adapting—especially through the words you use. Pay close attention to how you describe your service. Using the wrong words can deter patients away from your office and new services, so make sure you word your content appropriately. Everyone in your office should have a solid understanding of what dental sleep medicine is, who can benefit, how it works, and why it is so important.

And, with that comes being fluent in dental sleep medicine so that everyone can describe it to patients without hesitation. The future of dental sleep medicine is a bright one. With numerous opportunities to provide value through improved patient care, your options are endless, so take charge as soon as possible.

Remember, anything is possible and if you put your mind and energy into this, your practice has the opportunity to be extremely successful.

Let’s revisit dental sleep medicine and what it means for dentists

We’ve talked about this before, but I think it is time we revisit what dental sleep medicine is and how dentists can take advantage of this unique opportunity. So, what is dental sleep medicine (DSM) exactly?

DSM is an area of dentistry focusing on the use of oral appliance therapy to manage sleep-disordered breathing. And that includes snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). When providing dental sleep medicine services, dentists will work together with sleep specialists to help identify the best treatment option for each patient.

What is the dentist’s role?

Dentists pioneered the use of oral appliance therapy for the treatment of OSA and snoring–cool, right? The use of an oral appliance allows for a more comfortable treatment option for many patients that might be CPAP inept. It is similar to a mouth guard for sports or an orthodontic retainer, which makes for an easier solution to a condition. A custom-fit oral sleep appliance is an effective treatment for preventing the airway from collapsing by supporting the jaw in a forward position–an easy solution for a complicated condition.

Dental sleep medicine specialists work with sleep physicians to gain a diagnosis after they might have noticed symptoms or signs of sleep disordered breathing or a patient’s responses to a questionnaire showed a possibility of this condition. From a diagnosis through a sleep physician, dentists can plan for proper treatment with oral appliance therapy.

Have you ever thought about providing your patients with dental sleep medicine services? Now is the time to get out there and gain a better understanding of this unique area of dentistry to help your patients live happy, healthy, well-rested lives.

The link between sleep apnea and other health conditions

About one in five Americans suffer from sleep apnea, which is a number that is far too high. And with that comes untreated sleep apnea, which can lead to further complications in a person’s health. Of those that suffer from this condition, most don’t even realize it. This can be a deadly mistake.

Whether our patients are falling asleep watching TV, sitting in the car or even at their desk, it is important that we educate our patients on the negative effects of sleep apnea before it’s too late.

What are the complications?

Many patients state that they are always tired, have memory loss and high blood pressure–all signs that they might suffer from sleep apnea. After undergoing a sleep study, it can uncover obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Interrupted sleep can lead to an array of health problems including severe daytime fatigue, heart and liver ailments, sexual dysfunction and sleep-deprived partners.

Those that suffer from sleep apnea can also pose as public safety risks. For example, engineers in two New York City commuter train crashes had sleep apnea. These crashes injured hundreds and even killed one person. After an investigation, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board found that both engineers suffered from severe sleep apnea–neither had been tested before the crashes. And 4 years before that, a train derailed in New York City (again). This time it killed four people. According to the NTSB, the driver had an undiagnosed sleep disorder.

What can be done?

While CPAP therapy is the most widely used and accepted forms of treatment for sleep apnea, dentists can offer an alternative: oral appliance therapy. These devices can adjust the position of the jaw and tongue to improve breathing throughout the night. By advancing your knowledge of sleep apnea, you can provide advanced options for your patients to help in treatment and to prevent further complications.  

Anyone can suffer from sleep apnea, but certain factors increase a patient’s risk for the sleep disorder, such as excess weight, thicker necks, a narrowed airway, being male or older, family history, use of alcohol, sedatives, smoking and nasal congestion. Stay ahead of the game and complete continuing education to ensure you know what to look out for and what to recommend to help your patients remain healthy.

Even more reason to encourage patients to treat sleep apnea

We have yet another tragic death story to share that further proves just how important it is to treat sleep apnea. Did you ever watch the Disney movie “Heavyweights”? Joseph Wayne Miller, who starred in the movie as a Park Ridge, Illinois teen, died in his sleep at the age of 36. His mother, Patricia Clark, stated that he suffered from sleep apnea.

While he suffered from sleep apnea, did he do anything to attempt to improve his health and the condition? We might not know that answer, but we can use this as an example for helping our patients get the care they need and stick with it.

What do we tell our patients?

While treating sleep apnea is important in getting a good night’s rest, treatment can also help treat and maybe even eradicate many other health complications.  In addition to decreasing daytime sleepiness and removing a barrier to effective weight loss and/or management, treating sleep apnea can also improve an array of other complications, including:

  • Psychological well-being.
  • Memory, concentration and other cognitive functioning.
  • Erectile dysfunction.
  • Lower blood pressure levels.
  • Productivity during the day with fewer sick days.
  • Decrease in the risk of traffic accidents.

A better night’s sleep can go a long way toward improving our patients’ overall health and well-being.