Hygienist Role in Sleep Apnea Treatment Team
Registered Dental Hygienists may not be clear to “diagnose” conditions that they see in their patients, but it certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of thoroughly screening for them before the dentist pops in for an exam. As with identifying signs of periodontal disease, oral cancer, and tooth decay, hygienists play a key role in identifying situations that put their patients’ health and lives at risk — including sleep apnea.
Discussing Sleep Health as it Pertains to Your Patient’s Mouth
Reviewing your patient’s medical and dental history goes beyond covering just which medications they’ve been taking or what their blood pressure is. It also considers lifestyle choices and struggles that impact their day-to-day life. Hygienists can discuss their patient’s health choices throughout the appointment. One important facet to consider is their quality of sleep; it could just save your patient’s life.
Although dentists are not free to diagnose sleep apnea, both they and their hygienists can screen for it. When appropriate, a referral or sleep study ought to be recommended. As oral sleep medicine focuses around obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and continuous open airway therapy (COAT), it is essential for all providers of the dental team to connect the dots.
During the hygienist’s assessment of his or her patients, have them look for or ask questions regarding:
- How sleepy or fatigued they feel during the day
- Changes in weight, blood pressure, or other health concerns
- Depression and anxiety
- Snoring, or their sleep partner complaining about snoring
- If they feel rested when they wake up in the mornings
- Any past history of CPAP use
- Signs of severe occlusal wear, cervical abfractions, or fractured restorations
- Large neck circumference
- Difficulty breathing through the nose
You can learn more about signs and symptoms of sleep apnea here.
Clue Your Patients in On Their Risks
Dentists, have your hygienists educate patients about how their oral anatomy and occlusion can impact their quality of sleep at night. If you’re seeing signs of high blood pressure, tooth wear, and prominent masseter muscles, it could be that your patient is struggling for breath when they sleep. At this point, you would want to ask them if they have ever seen a sleep physician or worn a CPAP appliance.
Many people don’t realize that COAT (Continuous Open Airway Therapy)® with a mandibular positioning device, like SomnoDent®, can help to increase oxygen flow when they are CPAP intolerant. Together, dentists and hygienists can help their patients better understand the options available to them when it comes to managing sleep apnea with an oral sleep appliance.
Continue to Learn
At Somnomed, we offer free on-demand dental sleep education for dentists and their staff that includes 7 CEs. Our web-based program will define sleep disorders, review the epidemiology of sleep, discuss complications, symptomology, diagnosis and prevalence of OSA as well as treatment options. Upon completion of our web-based, on demand courses you will feel confident in submitting your first OSA case! You can access the courses at somnomed.com/education. If you would like more resources for your practice, join SomAdvantage for access to exclusive free training and resources for building your sleep practice.