Dentistry as a profession has been very successful at establishing a well care model that medicine doesn’t have, and has by nature of a more favorable practice model the opportunity to become an integral part of our patients' well-being beyond traditional dental care.
It is well known that a significant portion of the population suffers with some form of a sleep disorder. In fact, it is estimated that 1 in 5 patients a practitioner will see in their office during a normal clinic day will suffer with obstructive sleep apnea. Unfortunately, most individuals with sleep-related breathing disorders remain undiagnosed and ultimately untreated.
Data from recent studies show that most medical students receive approximately 2 and a half hours of education in sleep disorders during their 4 years of medical school while 1/3 of medical schools provide no education in sleep disorders whatsoever.
Dentistry as a profession has been very successful at establishing a well care model that medicine doesn’t have. We have helped our patient populations understand and value the importance of maintaining optimal oral health by consistent routine care visits.
With that, the dental team has by nature of a more favorable practice model the opportunity to become an integral part of our patients' well-being beyond traditional dental care.
The recent awareness of the importance of sleep in all aspects of health reinforces the need for the dental team to become well versed in this area. A recent policy statement from the American Dental Association published in 2017 states that “dentists are encouraged to screen patients for sleep-related breathing disorders (SRBDs) as part of a comprehensive medical and dental history to recognize symptoms such as daytime sleepiness, choking, snoring or witnessed apneas.” The statement goes on to say that “If risk for SRBDs is determined (suspected), these patients should be referred, as needed, to the appropriate physician for diagnosis”. Legal experts have suggested that policy statements of organizations tend to be considered the standard of care over time.
Because sleep-related breathing disorders can result in significant health compromises such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders such as diabetes and even dementias, it is essential for the dental team to become actively involved in the screening and identification of these suffering individuals. Also, because the dental team can provide a very viable alternative to the more traditional therapies for sleep apnea, this aspect of dentistry can become a significantly rewarding endeavor.
Steven D. Bender, DDS, is the director of the Center for Facial Pain and Sleep Medicine at the Texas A&M College of Dentistry. His research and teaching interests include anatomy of the head and neck, headache disorders, oral and facial pain disorders, sleep-related bruxism and other sleep disorders. To understand more about the basics of sleep, sleep disorders, and the role of the dental team in screening and treating sleep disordered breathing, you are encouraged to attend his upcoming courses at the 2021 Southwest Dental Conference: Wake Up Your Practice! An Introduction to Sleep Medicine for the Dental Team and Practical Application of Oral Appliance Therapy for Sleep Breathing Disorders. See www.swdentalconf.org for more information.