Rose Nierman, RDH – As a hygienist, I have always loved educating patients and talking about prevention. Now, hygienists are helping to educate about sleep apnea and identify oral signs and symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a life threatening disease.

Educating your patients about snoring and the comorbidities of obstructive sleep apnea can be very rewarding to hygienists. Getting your patients to the right place for treatment elicits heartfelt gratitude from your patents. Comments such as, “Thank you for giving me my life back – the tiredness is finally gone!” or “You saved my marriage by fixing my snoring” are very gratifying and make all of your hard work gaining your new knowledge worthwhile.

As part of a preventive dental practice, hygienists have a unique opportunity to screen for OSA with questionnaires such as the Epworth Sleepiness Scale or the STOP test. These tests ask about Snoring, Tiredness, OSA diagnosed, and Pressure (high blood pressure).

Here are some Hygiene talking points for OSA.

  1.     Doctors estimate that 10% of men and 5% of women have obstructive sleep apnea. Of the up-to 25 million Americans who have OSA, possibly as few as 5% have been diagnosed, or have taken a sleep study. That adds up to millions of people going undiagnosed!
  1.     A person with untreated obstructive sleep apnea is up to 4 times more likely to have a stroke. As well as 3 times more likely to have heart disease.
  1.     50% of all patients who have hypertension also have obstructive sleep apnea.
  1.     According to the patient education site,, people suffering from OSA are up to 6 times more likely to be involved in a car crash than those without sleep disorders. This is due to the fact that they are drowsy from lack of sleep.

How Hygienists can help:

During the medical history taking, OSA risk factors such as snoring or drug resistant hypertension may surface. If the patient has OSA risk factors, dental practices can recommend further screening by their doctor. When the patient’s medical doctor clears the patient for an oral appliance for OSA, the dental practice can place a custom-made oral appliance as an alternative to wearing a CPAP machine. Fortunately, their medical insurance commonly reimburses for the oral appliance!

A study published in the Journal of Dental Education, Sleep Medicine Content in Dental Hygiene Education 1, found that the level of training in hygiene education is inadequate to prepare dental hygienists for their potential role in patient education, screening, and management of sleep-related breathing disorders. The authors state, “on the frontline regarding prevention and counseling, dental hygienists play an important role in patient education, screening, and management of sleep disorders.”

1. Minichbauer BC, Sheats RD, Wilder RS, Phillips CL, Essick GK. J Dent Educ. 2015 May;79(5):484-9.