Hygienists: Get Involved in Dental Sleep Medicine
Dentists are growing in awareness about the role they can play in the treatment of sleep apnea, but it’s important to note that dental hygienists can save lives, too! How? It’s simple. A hygienist is the person who spends the most time with patients once they enter the dental office. From routine dental cleanings to educational information, a hygienist plays a crucial role in the interaction with the patient. As such, they may be the first to recognize a patient might be suffering from sleep apnea. As the first person your patients meet, hygienists offer recommendations based on a patient’s individual needs, which might include advice on sleep.
The Hygienist’s Role in Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that often requires long-term management. In the last 10 years, dentists and hygienists have become more involved in the treatment of sleep apnea, and dental sleep medicine continues to expand. Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed because most people who suffer from this condition don’t even realize they have it. Since patients visit their dentist more often than they visit their doctor, a dental hygienist plays a critical role in screening and caring for patients with sleep breathing disorders.
When going to the dentist, the topic of sleep apnea is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, the area of dental sleep medicine advances each year. Once a dental hygienist has received the proper education in sleep apnea, it is impossible to ignore the signs and symptoms of this potentially deadly condition. Initial screenings reveal that many of your patients might snore, feel tired all the time, or knew someone who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, but your patient had never sought treatment.
A dental hygienist can play an important role in the recognition of sleep disorders by adding questions to the standard dental history. Just as you ask your patients questions about their dental healthcare, it is important to get a better understanding of their day-to-day habits beyond brushing and flossing. You might want to ask patients the following questions at their regular dental visits:
- Do you snore?
- Can you breathe through your nose?
- Do you wake up tired in the morning?
- Do you become extremely tired or fall asleep during the day?
Each question is important in determining signs and symptoms of sleep apnea in your patients. And, since you are the main point of contact for your patients twice a year, it is important to include these questions.
Educate Your Patients
In addition to educating patients on oral diseases and complications, it is important to educate them on the dangers of sleep apnea and what treatment options are available. Through the knowledge of sleep apnea, patients can become better informed of this potentially deadly disease before it worsens.
As a hygienist, you can educate your patients on what sleep apnea is, as well as what dental options are available to manage it. Explain to your patients how an oral appliance works and how it would be custom-made specifically for their individual needs so they can sleep with an unobstructed airway, potentially eliminating the need for a CPAP machine.
Dentists and hygienists work as a team in the treatment and diagnosis of oral healthcare issues, which means sleep apnea too. Start today, and get a better understanding of how hygienists can aid in the identification and treatment of sleep apnea in your patients.
This article was previously published in
Sleep Review Magazine March 2015