Treating sleep apnea: The role of dentists, primary care physicians

Obesity is a global epidemic well rooted in the U.S. and Western cultures. With recognition of the magnitude of this epidemic, it is important to promote obesity prevention by all health professions and disciplines. This will help to prevent further health complications, such as diabetes, heart disease and obstructive sleep apnea, as well as other sleep-related breathing disorders (SRBD).

When a person struggles to breathe during sleep, or stops breathing, additional stress is placed on the heart, leading to health risks. To further improve the health of our patients, dentists should work with primary care physicians (PCP). Here is why.

Screening for sleep apnea

Dentists and primary care physicians are the first line of detection and treatment for their patients. As a dentist, you see your patients more frequently than physicians. This is especially true when patients adhere to the recommended cleaning every six months. PCPs  often see their patients more frequently than physician specialists, such as cardiologists, neurologists, pulmonologists, etc.

Both dentists and PCPs have the opportunity to discuss a variety of concerns that affect their patients’ quality of life, well-being and potential health risks. A large number of patients with undetected and untreated sleep disorders pass through dental and PCP offices each day. For this reason, it is important to complete advanced training and continuing education courses. This will help you to better understand how best to embed practical assessments and referrals into routine care.

Dentists and PCPs should work with a referral system. This links the patient with a proper specialist for diagnosis, as well as treatment. They can also educate and consult the patient about healthy lifestyle choices to reduce risk factors associated with obesity and SRBD.

Evidence-based treatment of sleep apnea

After a diagnosis is made, the medical sleep specialist can recommend treatment. Possible treatment might include weight loss, positional therapy, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), oral appliance therapy or surgery. Combination therapy is also common to provide individualized treatment for the patient. This often includes CPAP with oral appliance therapy. When a dentist receives proper training and credentialing, they can effectively treat patients using oral appliance therapy.

Patients should receive ongoing reinforcement for healthy behaviors during routine office visits. This is regardless of the treatment or health professional overseeing treatment. 

The Impact of Millennials on the Future of Dentistry

As you know, the playing field in dentistry is always changing. More recently, though, we have a new group of millennials that are entering the dental field, which is creating a lot of changes. Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000, standing at 96 million people–the largest population in U.S. history. Then we have Baby Boomers at 77 million and Generation Xers at 61 million. What sets them apart is that Millennials demand instant access, efficiency and superior customer service.

Millennials have entered the dental world disappointed in how things were run and the technology available. To them, the dental system is outdated, inefficient and ill-equipped to handle their needs and their patients.

An Upgrade in Technology

Because millennials are so used to being able to quickly order products and services from their smartphone or tablet with next-day delivery, they want their patients to have the same. And this isn’t a bad thing at all. Waiting days to see the dentist with only a small set of office hours in an area riddled with dental practices, millennials are drawn to Internet searches.

No one wants to wait weeks to see a dentist. In this instant gratification generation, millennials want an appointment and they want it now. With the need for easy access to dentists, it is time for you to take advantage of the technology in front of you.

The Future of Dentistry

Millennials are leading the way for the future design of dental practices and the ways we reach our patients. There is a demand to meet the needs of a sophisticated group that wants instant gratification and easy access to the care and information they need. We need to cater to their needs of convenience and preventive health.

Where do millennials turn to for help? Google. Where do they shop for products delivered next day? Amazon. They want the information they are looking for and they want it now. This is why we need to continue to pave a path toward improved technology and advancements so we can keep up with their constant demand.

So what should we do? Keep providing the tools necessary for our patients. Take advantage of marketing, websites and even apps to help maintain instant access to your dental practice.

International Board Member of British Society of Dental Sleep Medicine

Over the past year, I have been working closely with Dr. Aditi Desai and her team at the British Society of Dental Sleep Medicine (BSDSM) to educate dentists. Together we have created an effective lecture series to better provide advanced information for dentists in the UK.

Last summer I flew to London to lead an “Introduction to Dental Sleep Medicine” with the BSDSM. This group of dentists were so interested in dental sleep medicine that we worked together to ensure we could continue to provide these courses every year. In the introduction course, I worked with Dr. Desai on a module for temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD), craniofacial pain (CFP), and sleep bruxism (SB).

After working with Dr. Desai at the British Society of Dental Sleep Medicine, it is my pleasure to announce my new position as International Board. I look forward to working more with Dr. Desai, other board members and the dentists in London, as well as surrounding countries. Together we can continue to provide exceptional education on dental sleep medicine, TMD and craniofacial pain.

Content Marketing and Your Practice

In today’s technologically advanced society, simply owning and running your dental practice is not enough. While treating your patients is one of the most important parts of your practice, there is another area that is just as important: Content Marketing. Yes, you heard me right. So, what does content marketing have to do with dentistry? Everything! The use of content marketing not only helps get your practice’s name out there, but it also helps to educate your patients so that they can continue to take proper care of themselves outside of your office as well. Here’s what you can do with content marketing to help improve your presence:

Blog, Blog, Blog

By incorporating a blog on your website you are creating an extension of your site. Utilize your blog to share important information about your practice, dentistry, sleep apnea, craniofacial pain, tips, and other information you feel your patients need to know. The blog is there for you to use it as you wish. Whether it is once a month, once a week or twice a week—make sure you are blogging to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry. 

Get Social

Jump on social media to interact with your patients. Not only can your patients “like” your office, but they can leave reviews, message you and ask questions. It also allows you to actively respond to your patients outside of office hours, as well as a platform to share all those blog posts you will be creating!

Reach Out to Patients

Reaching out to your patients is simple. Whether you create a monthly newsletter or send out weekly emails with updates, it is important to reach out to your patients to keep the lines of communication open. You want to make sure your patients know they can contact you with questions or concerns and you will be open to speaking with them.

In-Office Education

From pamphlets to handouts, keeping your patients educated is important in your office, too. To keep them educated, you can put together pamphlets or one page handouts that touch base on important information that you feel they should know. You might also consider a frequently asked questions sheet that covers areas many patients are always interested in.

No matter what route you take, it is important to make the most out of content marketing for not only reaching your patients, but in creating a presence for your practice. Contact me if you have any questions!