When most people think of how they should treat sleep and airway disorders, they probably think of medical doctors first—not dentists. However, according to the ADA, dentists are in the best position to screen for sleep apnea and provide their patients access to treatment for long-lasting and life-changing results. In fact, there is an entire industry of dentistry dedicated to breathing and airway wellness: airway dentistry.
A basic dental exam can go a long way in identifying several of the warning signs of sleep, airway, and breathing disorders. For example, dental clues such as tooth wear from bruxism, red and swollen gums, a scalloped tongue, tongue and lip tie, tonsil enlargement, and a popping jaw can all be signs of obstructed breathing during sleep.
Are you ready to help your patients and give them access to the treatment they need to lead healthier lives? As a dentist, you have more power in shaping your patients’ health and happiness than you may realize! Here’s why you should be screening for sleep apnea and other airway disorders in your dental office.
The Dangers of Untreated Sleep Apnea
The majority of people with sleep apnea don’t even realize they have it. At first glance, that may seem like a good thing. The less you feel any symptoms, the better, right? Wrong. This is not the case when it comes to OSA. Not only does the disorder cause fatigue and excessive sleepiness, affecting functioning and your ability to complete everyday tasks, but it can also negatively affect others around you.
When left undiagnosed and untreated, OSA can impact one’s mental, physical, emotional, and even social health. This is due to the fact that when a patient’s breathing pauses throughout the night, it activates the body’s stress response, leading to repeated awakenings as they attempt to sleep. The disorder has been associated with a number of serious health concerns, including the following:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
On top of these chronic issues, sleep apnea can also affect one’s ability to perform well at work, in relationships, or while completing everyday tasks like driving. For example, patients with sleep apnea are expected to be 2.5 times more likely to get in a car accident. This is because not getting enough sleep impacts thought processes and reaction time, therefore increasing an individual’s risk of crashing. Similarly, not only are those with OSA more likely to get in an accident, but these accidents are more likely to be serious and result in significant injuries. In fact, drowsy driving is estimated to cause 6,400 fatal crashes in the US every year.
The Power of Dentists in Addressing the Disorder
Dental professionals are in a unique and important position to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea. First of all, they’re one of the few roles in healthcare that regularly look at their patients’ mouths. This means they’re well-positioned to notice some particularly telling signs of obstructive sleep apnea, including the following:
- A large tongue or a tongue with scalloped edges
- Enlarged tonsils
- Wide neck circumference
- Signs of bruxism, such as worn tooth surfaces or TMJ
- An unusually sensitive gag reflex
- Mouth breathing syndrome
- And more
Once you become aware of how many oral signs point to a serious disorder like OSA, you’ll be able to refer your patients to a doctor that can provide them with the treatment they need. With so many people experiencing negative consequences due to the disorder—and without even realizing it—your role could help many people make the changes they need to lead happier and healthier lives.
Beyond their ability to search for physical signs of OSA, dentists are also in a great position to have simple but meaningful conversations with their patients about their symptoms. For example, many dentists are particularly—if not painfully—aware of how many of their patients breathe through their mouths. Not only can this impact those around them, but it can also induce or worsen their own sleep apnea symptoms. On top of this, simply asking your patients how they are and how they’ve been sleeping can be revelatory—especially in conjunction with other signs of breathing disorders. Because many patients are unaware of how serious a disorder like OSA can be, simple conversations could make all the difference in their well-being.
The Benefits of Providing Screening in Your Dental Office
Taking a few minutes out of a biannual visit to check in with your patients about sleep apnea and look for potential signs of the disorder could lead to a lifetime of positive change in their lives. It could also be extremely beneficial to your dental practice. OSA screenings can be simple, inexpensive, and time-efficient, and offering these services to your patients can help you stand out from your competition as well as drive profit and growth at your practice.
Did you know that finding and marketing to new patients can cost up to 25 times more than retaining your current ones? Well, by showing your patients that you are dedicated to every aspect of their well-being, you’ll be much more likely to keep them for long periods of time. You’ll also be able to bring in new patients through unique treatment options—something that is much cheaper than starting from scratch with marketing efforts. Loyal patients will speak highly of your efforts and dedication to their health, helping you build a professional, positive reputation and reaching new clients through positive reviews—whether by word-of-mouth or online reviews.
By expanding your treatment options and screening for OSA at your practice, you can drastically improve your patients’ lives and well-being, as well as drive growth and success at your dental office. Want to learn even more about how providing OSA screening can revolutionize your dental practice? Vivos Therapeutics, Inc. is on a mission to transform patient lives and the healthcare industry alike. Visit us at thevivosinstitute.com/blog or reach out to us at (866) 908-4867 to learn more.