Identifying Sleep Apnea in Your Dental Patients

Identifying Sleep Apnea in Your Dental Patients

There is a growing need for dentists to take a more active role in identifying and treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in their patients. It’s well known that OSA affects a growing number of adults in the United States, but you may not be aware that Dentists like you can be on the front lines in combating this sleep disorder. 

If you’re unfamiliar, OSA is a disorder that causes airway obstruction during sleep. This obstruction can lead to choking during sleep and interrupt the natural sleep cycle. In the short term, OSA can cause sleeplessness, daytime fatigue, irritability, and mood swings. However, in the long term, it can have very severe, even life-threatening, side effects like Type II Diabetes, Heart Disease, Heart Attack, Strokes, and even certain types of cancers.

How to Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea

There are at least 100,000 practicing dentists in the United States who can see an average of 12 patients per day. This implies that there are likely several OSA sufferers walking through your clinic, and many may not even know they are suffering from this sleep disorder. This puts you and your assistants/hygienists in a position to help improve your patients’ quality of life. 

You already help your patients with non-tooth related conditions like oral cancer, so you can easily adopt a similar approach to OSA by suggesting or even ordering a sleep study. This will allow your patients to have more information so they can make educated choices about their health and well-being. 

Dental & Other Health Signs of OSA

There are many ways you can identify OSA in your patients by simply looking inside their mouths. Many OSA sufferers have oral or dental formations that increase their risks of airway obstruction. Be sure to look out for: 

  • A long, soft palate that hands below the back of the tongue
  • A narrow vaulted hard palate 
  • A large tongue
  • A Class II retrognathic mandible
  • Narrow maxillary and mandibular arches
  • An inability to see the posterior wall of the pharynx

While these will likely be the first and most apparent signs of OSA for a dentist, there are other, more general signs that can also increase a patient’s likelihood of OSA. 

  • Obesity, or a BMI greater than 30
  • Deviated Septum
  • A large or stunted neck
  • Frequent mouth breathing

If you see a patient who has a high likelihood of OSA, it’s imperative that you follow up with a  simple line of questioning to see if there are other side effects they are experiencing. These could be as innocuous as the daytime fatigue or frequent nighttime bathroom breaks, but they can also include,

  • Brain fog
  • Loud, frequent snoring
  • Waking up exhausted
  • Waking up with headaches
  • Memory loss or impairment
  • Excessive moodiness
  • High blood pressure
  • Waking up gasping for breath

Any of these could be signs of untreated OSA. It’s important to get to the bottom of these issues in your dental patients because OSA treatment needs to be started as soon as possible to prevent future health issues.

How to Help Patients with OSA

Dentists can be a great gatekeeper for undiagnosed sufferers of OSA, especially because of the regularity of their patients’ appointments. For too long, the only real way to get an OSA diagnosis was to undergo a complicated and uncomfortable in-lab sleep study, but you can do the best for your patients by finding a sleep apnea partner who can offer your patients the comfort and cost-effectiveness of home sleep testing

Sleep testing has come a long way and is a great, reliable alternative for patients you believe have a high likelihood of obstructive sleep apnea. 

ApneaMed is a leader in the home sleep testing space, so your dental practice can enter into an in-office partnership to provide any of your patients with the equipment and data analysis they need to get their diagnosis and treatment faster. 

Other Partnership Options

For dentists, ApneaMed believes that the in-office partnership provides you and your patients with the most benefits for home sleep testing. But, we want to make sure that you have an option that works best for the needs of your practice, so there are two more options for you to choose from. 

Referral Partnership: With a Referral Partnership, you can refer your dental patients to ApneaMed for in-home testing. ApneaMed will contact your patient directly and send them their own home sleep testing unit. Once diagnosed by our board-certified sleep physicians, our patient care representatives will reach out to your patient to review treatment options.

Mail-Out Partnership: As a dentist, you would be able to order a home sleep test from ApneaMed and have us mail it directly to your patient. Like above, they will undergo the sleep testing from the comfort of their home and send it back. Once evaluated, our patient care representatives will reach out to your patient with their diagnosis and treatment options.

It’s important to all varieties of medical professionals to keep an eye out for OSA. It’s such a pervasive sleep disorder that, odds are, you’re treating more than one person with the condition. Sleep apnea is easily treatable through several methods from surgery and oral appliances to CPAP and AutoPAP therapy. Be sure to keep an eye out for these symptoms in your patients and help them live the best, healthiest life possible. 

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