Dental sleep medicine allows newer dentists to differentiate business, establish patient relationships

American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine
Wednesday, December 2, 2015

DARIEN, IL - Establishing yourself in dentistry can be challenging, with the task of building up a practice and gathering a solid patient base taking five to 10 years of hard work. But a growing trend in sleep apnea treatment is changing this timeline and unlocking immediate patient and partnership opportunities for those looking for a breakout way to set themselves apart.

“More than 25 million adults in the U.S. suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, and up to 50 percent of sleep apnea patients do not adhere to the continuous positive airway pressure machine and mask recommended as a first line of treatment,” said Kathleen Bennett, DDS, president of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM). “There is a great need for sleep apnea treatment, and dentists who practice dental sleep medicine provide a treatment that is easier to live with, proven effective and in high demand among both patients and sleep physicians.”

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious medical disease, typically characterized by loud snoring, which causes sufferers to stop breathing up to hundreds of times a night for anywhere from a few seconds to more than a minute. It is traditionally treated by a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine and mask. If left untreated, sleep apnea is a potentially life threatening condition that can increase the risk for serious health problems from congestive heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease to diabetes, obesity, depression and impotence.

Dental sleep medicine, pioneered by dentists thirty years ago, focuses on the management of sleep-disordered breathing, including snoring and sleep apnea, through the use of custom-fit oral appliances provided exclusively by a dentist. Oral appliances prevent the airway from collapsing by supporting the jaw in a forward position. For a growing number of patients, oral appliances are more comfortable to wear than a CPAP mask. The devices are also quiet, portable and easy to care for. The oral appliance market is expected to double by 2020, and custom oral appliances will see a significant increase in revenue.*

“As dentists move from dental school and apprenticeships to the time-intensive task of establishing a practice, dental sleep medicine can provide immediate differentiation from the pack and the promise of long-term growth that is so important for the success of a small business,” said Bennett.

Finding Potential in Your Practice
The dental sleep medicine model relies on a collaborative, referral-based relationship between a sleep physician and a dentist. Dentists screen for symptoms of sleep apnea and refer patients to a sleep physician for diagnosis. After making a diagnosis, physicians refer back to dentists those patients who cannot tolerate CPAP or prefer oral appliance therapy.

“If you are considering adding dental sleep medicine to your scope of services, one of the first things you can do is look for signs and symptoms of sleep apnea in your current patients during routine dental visits,” said Dr. Bennett. “Take stock of how many patients might be suffering – maybe unknowingly – from sleep apnea. Increased awareness of the disease will help you gauge if dental sleep medicine is a smart and profitable step for you.”

The AADSM recommends looking for the following symptoms and signs as potential indicators of sleep apnea:

• A thick neck (greater than 16 inches in a woman or 17 inches in a man)
• A short neck
• Lower-face abnormalities, which may include: a small chin, maxilla and mandible; a receding lower jaw that provides inadequate support for the lower lip, resulting in lip curling and a deep mental-labial fold and/or a large tongue
• A crowded posterior airway (such as caused by an enlarged, floppy uvula or tonsillar hypertrophy)
• An enlarged soft palate that rests on the base of the tongue
• Obesity
• Complaints of being overly tired during the day, low on energy, depressed or moody
• Falling asleep in dental chair
• Trouble opening mouth wide during dental examination

Investing in Growth
While a dental license is the only formal requirement for offering dental sleep medicine, the effective treatment of sleep apnea takes an understanding of the medical disease along with practice and skill at selecting, fitting and adjusting oral appliances.

“The AADSM offers a plethora of courses – both in person and online – to help dentists interested in the practice understand the basics of treatment,” said Dr. Bennett.

The AADSM is the only non-profit national professional society dedicated exclusively to the practice of dental sleep medicine and provides dentists with exclusive access to educational resources, practice management support and networking opportunities. The AADSM also furthers the practice of dental sleep medicine nationwide by fostering high standards of care and positioning dentists as instrumental to any sleep medicine team.

“Treating sleep apnea is incredibly important and can save lives,” noted Dr. Bennett. “Dental sleep medicine is a fast-growing segment of dentistry, and being a part of the AADSM will give you the credibility, education and tools that will help you grow your business and effectively improve your patients’ overall health.”

To learn more about the AADSM or to take an introductory class on dental sleep medicine, visit http://www.aadsm.org.

* Based on a January 2015 report by Frost & Sullivan

About The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine
The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM) is the only non-profit national professional society dedicated exclusively to the practice of dental sleep medicine. The AADSM provides educational resources for dentists and promotes the use of oral appliance therapy for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea and sleep-disordered breathing. Established in 1991, the AADSM has nearly 3,000 member dentists worldwide. Visit www.aadsm.org or call the national office at (630) 737-9705 for more information.


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