Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS
Congratulations! You did it! You finally graduated . . . but now what? As a recent graduate your options are limitless. After graduation you might think you know everything you need to know, but you will learn quickly that dental school does not cover many of the most fulfilling and cutting-edge areas of dentistry. Even after graduating dental school, you will continue to learn and expand-especially if you wish to be successful in the dental field.
Now that you are moving on to a career in dentistry, it is time to think about implementing dental sleep medicine (DSM) into your practice right out of the gate. Let's take a look at why DSM can play a pivotal role in your practice and the health of your patients, and why now is the time to dive into DSM.
A Glimpse at the Statistics
Let's take a look at the statistics. Tooth decay currently affects more than one-fourth of children in the United States between the ages of two and five. As children get older, this amount increases to half of those aged 12 to 15 years. Advanced gum disease affects approximately 4% to 12% of adults in the United States, and half of the cases of severe gum disease are the result of smoking.1
With those statistics in mind, 18 million Americans currently suffer from sleep apnea, which means approximately one in every 15 Americans, or 6.2% of the total population, has a case of sleep apnea. And, according to these numbers, of the 22 million people who suffer from moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea, about 80% of these individuals go undiagnosed.2
When a person with sleep apnea goes undiagnosed, it increases his or her chances of being involved in a traffic accident. Due to increased daytime sleepiness and a lack of ability to concentrate, sufferers are six times more likely to die in a car accident. Even more so, those who suffer from sleep apnea also run an increased risk of stroke that is four times as likely as those who do not suffer from sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea sufferers are also three times more likely to have heart disease.2
By understanding these statistics, you can see how important it is to further your education after graduation. Yes, the information you learn in dental school is vital to properly treating your patients, but going above and beyond to learn dental sleep medicine will help you stand out from the rest.
Limited Education in School and Insight in Detecting Sleep Issues
In dental school you may have learned the basics of what you needed to start your career by either joining an existing practice or starting your own. However, this education is limited to specific areas of dentistry. Once you have graduated, there are many different areas you can focus on. A dental school graduate is current with caries control, gum disease, restorative care, and other areas. However, recent dental graduates have a limited insight in suspecting potential sleep breathing issues. Dental sleep medicine is one of the fastest growing areas of dentistry, making it a great area for young dentists to make their mark.
To successfully implement dental sleep medicine, begin with education for your entire team (medical billing, hygienist screening, etc.). There are classes available for everyone in your office-from the dentist to the receptionist. Each member of your team is vital in providing DSM to your patients. By completing continuing education courses and lectures, you can create a well-rounded dental team for proper care of patients suffering from sleep breathing disorders.
Next, communicating with patients and physicians is important for raising awareness. Provide educational information for patients and physicians to showcase your availability and understanding of dental sleep medicine. Often, dentists are seen by their patients more frequently than their family doctors. For this reason, you hold a greater role in the screening for and managing of obstructive sleep apnea. Through intraoral examinations and questionnaires, you can take the next step toward providing your patients with optimal care.
Once you have completed continuing education and properly communicated with patients and physicians, the clinical part is easy. You can begin to utilize dental sleep medicine within your office. However, it is also important to get a better understanding of oral appliances before you begin treating your patients. Take a class on oral appliances and learn how to choose the right one for each patient. Once you have gained an understanding of choosing appliances, you can successfully treat each sleep breathing disorder case that you see in your office.
Dental sleep medicine is a great area of dentistry for young dentists to make a name for themselves. But, gaining the recognition and patients desired begins with proper education. Continuing education courses and proper communication are essential in establishing a well-rounded DSM practice.
USE Social Media Channels and a Blog
To generate marketing for your practice, social networks are the way to go. While you might have a personal account to keep in touch with friends, creating social media channels for your practice is another way to reach your patients, as well as other medical professionals. Use Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social networks to introduce dental sleep medicine to your patients.
Additionally, creating an information-rich blog that connects to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ will continue to expand your reach with your patients. With an active, up-to-date educational blog, you can share important information with your patients on a weekly basis. From explaining sleep apnea to treatment options available, your practice blog is available to help you share vital information to your patients take better care of themselves.
Marketing your dental practice is an important tool in getting your practice and information out there to your patients as well as other medical professionals in your community. I personally use freelance copywriter Sara Berg (saraanneberg.wix.com/dentalwriting) to help with my marketing efforts. By using a freelance writer, you can continue to treat your patients while providing important information online through your website, blog, and other areas.
Other Marketing Services
Looking for more ways to market your practice? Another way you can reach your patients while educating the public is through Snoring Isn't Sexy. By using its services, you can help individuals near your zip code who are searching for snoring solutions to find your practice. After all, snoring can make or break a relationship, but most importantly, it can pose a negative effect on your health.
After graduation it is important to complete continuing education in dental sleep medicine while also properly marketing your practice. By incorporating DSM into your practice, you can expand the services you offer your patients so they can continue to live healthy and happy lives.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/doh.htm
2. American Sleep Apnea Association, http://www.sleepapnea.org/i-am-a-health-care-professional.html
Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS, has taken well over 1,500 hours of postgraduate education courses in the area of sleep medicine, craniofacial pain, sleep disorders, and orthodontics. Since 2003, he has limited his practice to the treatment of TMJ disorders, headaches, facial pain, sleep apnea, and snoring. Dr. Patel also lectures locally and nationally to the dental and medical communities in the area of craniofacial pain and dental sleep medicine. He can be reached at www.mpateldds.com and through email at email@example.com