Dental medicine should always be a part of comprehensive care that puts patient health first according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)4 and the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM).5 Based on American Dental Association (ADA) recommendations, dentists like you are “ideally positioned to identify oral or craniofacial abnormalities” that impact patients’ overall healthcare1.
These organizations assert that when evaluating new patients, dentists should screen for (and potentially treat) obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a dangerous sleep disorder affecting many Americans’ overall physical and dental health today1. Just as oral cancer screening has become standard in dental care, the ADA has advocated for OSA screening to become part of dental practice.
Doing so will allow you to provide appropriate, collaborative dental care that supplements ongoing medical treatment and improves long-term health outcomes in your practice.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Prevalence and Risks
In the US, obstructive sleep apnea represents over 80% of sleep-related breathing disorders2, affecting as many as 54 million American adults today1.
According to the AADSM, sleep dentistry is among the fastest growing specialties in dental medicine1. Providing OSA screening as part of dental practice means you may be helping to provide much needed care for this growing patient population.
In addition to leading to a variety of dental problems, OSA is correlated with several life-threatening comorbid conditions that can impact your patients medical and dental care3, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type II diabetes
- End-stage renal disease
Beyond these chronic conditions, OSA is correlated with a variety of dental and oral health issues4, such as:
- Enlarged or scalloped tongue
- Periodontal disease
- Battered uvula
Identifying whether your patients meet criteria for an OSA diagnosis may allow you to offer collaborative care with their medical providers and provide insight into other dental issues they may have down the line.
OSA-related Risk Factors and Symptoms
Dentists looking to incorporate OSA screening into their care should learn signs of OSA as well the condition’s related risk factors. OSA screening may be indicated for patients exhibiting the following features or symptoms2:
- Large tongue or tonsils
- Large neck circumference
- Nocturnal choking or gasping
- Loud snoring
- Interrupted breathing during sleep
- Daytime sleepiness or exhaustion
As OSA is a common and dangerous sleep disorder when left untreated, providing OSA screenings may improve the quality of dental care your patients receive.
Importance of OSA Screening in Dental Care
Patients may communicate or show some of the above features during standard patient history intake. However, OSA sufferers are often unaware of OSA-related symptoms that are interrupting their sleep and causing them to feel poorly rested over time3.
When patients are unaware that they are sleeping poorly due to interrupted breathing while sleep, they are unlikely to seek care, which explains why OSA is underdiagnosed. Screenings that you provide in your dental practice may help undiagnosed OSA sufferers identify an overlooked and dangerous threat to their health.
Using at-home diagnostics like the WatchPAT® ONE or WatchPAT® 300 sleep apnea monitor can make these screenings accessible and cost effective, not only for you and your practice, but for your patients as well. In addition to the above benefit, choosing to recommend a home sleep apnea test (HSAT) to a patient showing visible signs prevents additional steps, time and confusion. Patients tend to prefer the notion of being able to utilize an HSAT over a study that must be performed in a lab or facility.
While in-lab screenings may be necessary for complex cases3, home sleep apnea testing devices are a preferrable option for many patients, saving time and money. Providing HSAT options in your practice will allow you to integrate this important step into your practice quickly and with ease.
Integrating Home Sleep Apnea Tests into Your Practice
Those trained in sleep dentistry are uniquely qualified to help identify and care for dental patients with OSA. Although it is estimated that a staggering 1 in 15 Americans suffer from OSA, the majority of these patients remain undiagnosed2.
Dental patients seeking care may not know that their OSA diagnosis impacts their dental care or even that they have OSA at all. But, once you integrate OSA screenings into your practice, not only is it possible for you to work with other medical care providers, but you may also be able to offer specially fitted oral appliances that could serve as a more patient-friendly alternative to CPAP therapy, as recommended by the AASM4 and the AADSM.5
Providing OSA-diagnosed patients with this option could simultaneously benefit your practice and your patients by expanding your patient pool and revenue stream while maybe offering OSA patients a sleep apnea treatment option that they may find more comfortable and less noisy to use while sleeping. And, as sleep dentistry has become more prevalent, you have a variety of oral appliance companies with which your practice can partner and offer this kind of care.
According to leading field experts, integrating sleep dentistry into your practice can improve the specialized dental care available for the large number of patients suffering from OSA5. With disposable home sleep apnea test devices like WatchPAT® ONE, you can integrate OSA screening into your practice with a seamless solution that is accessible and super easy to use for your practice and patients.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea. American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. https://www.aadsm.org/obstructive_sleep_apnea.php
- Oral Health Topics – Sleep Apnea (Obstructive). American Dental Association. https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/sleep-apnea-obstructive
- Motamedi KK, McClary AC, Amedee RG. Obstructive sleep apnea: a growing problem. Ochsner J. 2009;9(3):149-153.
- Padma A, Ramakrishnan N, Narayanan V. Management of obstructive sleep apnea: A dental perspective. Indian J Dent Res. 2007;18(4):201-209. doi:10.4103/0970-9290.35833
- Oral Appliance Therapy Should be Prescribed as a First-Line Therapy for OSA during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Schwartz, et al., JDSM, Vol. 7, No.3 2020