Creating awareness of sleep apnea in the dental office

Sleep apnea therapy in dental practice is a hot topic as the dental profession learns more about sleep apnea and dental-related treatments.

By Gary M. Radz, DDS

Sleep apnea therapy in dental practice is a hot topic as the dental profession learns more about sleep apnea and dental-related treatments. Continuing education courses abound, providing dental professionals numerous venues to learn just how they can enter this new area to dentistry and help their patients find a solution for their sleep apnea issues.

For dentists who are serious about making sleep apnea an area of focus in their practice, they must first concentrate their efforts on creating awareness of sleep apnea within the office.

Many people suffer from sleep apnea and are entirely unaware that they may in fact have it. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is a widely accepted method of determining the likelihood of someone having sleep apnea. In our office, all new patients complete an Epworth survey as part of the medical history.

Additionally, all recall patients will complete the Epworth survey as part of their medical history updates. Frequently, patients will inquire why we are asking about their sleep habits since initially it would appear to them that this has nothing to do with their dental health. We welcome this question as it opens the door for us to have a conversation about the importance of sleep in overall health, the fact that sleep apnea is a significant health risk, and to mention that -- for some patients with sleep apnea -- a dental appliance is the preferred method of treatment.

The other important aspect of creating awareness is letting patients know that our office can provide assistance if the patients have -- or suspect they have -- sleep apnea, that it is fine to discuss their sleep issues with us, and that we can provide more information and assistance if they want to learn more.

One of our more effective awareness tools is a product called Kaleidoscope. Kaleidoscope (www.thekaleidoscope.com) is a marketing/education/entertainment system that consists of a large, flat-screen monitor, computer, and software that is mounted to the wall in the reception area. The software in its simplest terms is a PowerPoint presentation in slideshow mode.

The product allows each office to create and constantly update its presentation so that patients in the waiting room are exposed to the information that you would like them to receive. When we started working with sleep apnea patients, we incorporated much information relative to sleep apnea on the Kaleidoscope system. Since this time, we have had many patients ask us about sleep apnea for themselves or their loved ones.

In our office, we have never used a lot of brochures to provide information about services. But because sleep apnea was not on most patients' radar in the dental office, we decided to place informational brochures in the waiting room. Well-done brochures can be obtained from the Academy of Sleep Medicine (www.aasmnet.org) as well as Somnomed (www.somnomed.com). We have found these to be effective. Frequently, they need to be restocked.

Additionally, we have laminated several articles that have been published in health journals to help patients learn more. By using our reception area awareness campaign, as well as the inclusion of the Epworth sleep study in our medical history questionnaires, many patients ask us about sleep-related issues. Interestingly, there are many wives who are begging to learn more since they are concerned about finding a cure for a husband who snores.

For the dental office that is adding sleep apnea therapy into its practice, it is critical that the entire team has a good working knowledge of sleep apnea, and be able to carry on a conversation with the patient whether in the office or on the phone. In this way, the right questions are asked and accurate information is shared. Every member of our team has completed a two-day course in sleep apnea with Sleep Group Solutions (www.sleepgroupsolutions.com).

Other excellent CE courses for the entire team are Dr. Kent Smith (www.21stcenturydental.com), Somnomed Academy (www.somnomed.com), and Henry Schein's Sleep Complete program (www.sleepcomplete.com). Exposure to these courses will provide team members with a good foundational knowledge of sleep apnea so that they can inform and educate patients who wish to learn more.

Finally, we added a section on sleep apnea to our office website and direct patients there to learn more and to share this information with their sleep partners when they go home. When we have conversations with patients and talk about this issue, we always remind them that we have much information and links on our website that can be used as a reference.

Sleep apnea, sadly, is not going to go away. As our population gets older and fatter, sleep apnea is bound to increase. Awareness is one of the greatest tools we have to help deal with this frequently undiagnosed serious condition. Dentists and dentistry should be proud that the profession is leading the way in helping to make the public aware of the problems and assisting patients with finding solutions.

Gary Radz, DDS, maintains a private practice in Denver, Colo. He has a faculty position at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine. Dr. Radz serves as the director of sleep studies at the Rocky Mountain Dental Institute (www.rockymountaindentalinstitute.com). He is studying for his fellowship in sleep studies with the Academy of Clinical Sleep Disorders Disciplines (www.acsdd.org).

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