By Dr. Mayoor Patel

Treating obstructive sleep apnea is becoming more and more commonplace amongst dental practices. There are Sleep Apnea Appliances that can be used and dentists are already well versed in taking impressions and making custom-fit appliances for patients. Recently the ADA has proposed a new policy that all dentists should be screening for obstructive sleep apnea. So what makes the dental practice an ideal place to screen and help identify patients who may have obstructive sleep apnea?

There are several main reasons:

  • Dental practices spend more chair time with patients than other physicians.
  • Many obstructive sleep apnea signs and symptoms can be found in the mouth.
  • Other signs and symptoms can be identified with questionnaires included with patients’ dental questionnaires.

The Importance of a Dental Appointment

With dentists seeing patients twice a year, they can recognize traits, characteristics and behaviors that predispose patients to a variety of systemic conditions. At each dental visit, hygienists and dentists can screen via questionnaires and a visual intraoral assessment for various signs that might signal sleep apnea, such as daytime sleepiness, obesity, history of snoring, and bruxism. Tools used by dentists on a regular basis can actually be helpful in recognizing and improving the diagnosis of sleep apnea.

Dentistry’s Role in Obstructive Sleep Apnea

When identifying signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, dentists can also refer their patients to a sleep physician for further diagnosis and treatment planning. This is the biggest role dentists can play in the area of sleep apnea identification, the availability to co-treat with a patient’s physician. Dentists can help treat sleep apnea through the use of oral appliance therapy, oral surgical procedures or orthodontic options. These dental approaches work to increase the volume of the upper airway by bringing the tongue forward and away from the throat.

Most patients show signs & symptoms of sleep breathing disorders before they are formally diagnosed, and dentists hold a unique advantage by being able to identify symptoms early on.

Getting Started in Screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

To get started, implement an obstructive sleep apnea screening protocol in your office.

Begin by training your dental team in dental sleep medicine fundamentals, including screening protocols and communication with patients on sleep-disordered breathing. Start connecting with local sleep physicians and refer your red-flag patients to them for a formal diagnosis. Send S.O.A.P. reports based on your questionnaire and intraoral exam to the sleep physician as well as to all other health-care providers the patient has recently seen. By sending these reports you can start building relationships with the medical community establish a referral network of obstructive sleep apnea patients.

Nierman Practice Management offers a 2-day course on Screening & Increasing Case Acceptance in Dental Sleep Medicine that gives the dental team the knowledge and tools to implement an effective screening protocol for obstructive sleep apnea.