In October the American Dental Association House of Delegates adopted a policy statement detailing the ways dentists can help identify and treat sleep apnea and other sleep disorders in adults and children. Dentists have an important role to play in assisting patients with these conditions because they are well-suited to fit and make oral appliances to treat them, the statement says. By increasing their education in this area dentists can also be part of the team helping patients achieve better dental and overall health.
Sleep related breathing disorders (SRBDs) are characterized by disruptions in breathing while a person is sleeping. They include snoring, obstructive sleep apnea and upper airway resistance syndrome. SRBDs often lead to potentially serious medical problems such as cardiovascular, metabolic and respiratory diseases. They are also associated with tooth grinding, TMJ and other dental problems.
According to the ADA’s policy statement, dentists should take a step-by-step approach to working with other health care providers to treat SRBDs. They should screen patients for disorders when collecting a comprehensive dental and medical history. Symptoms include snoring, choking, fatigue and reported incidences of a patient ceasing to breathe while sleeping. If it seems likely that a patient has an SRBD, refer them to a sleep doctor for a diagnosis.
Oral appliances are a good way to treat mild to moderate sleep apnea (or severe sleep apnea in patients who cannot or will not use a continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine). Dentists can work with patients who obtain a prescription to evaluate their appropriateness for an oral appliance, then fit and manufacture it. The appliance should be adjusted or updated as needed or no less than once per year. Other important steps such as staying in contact with the patient’s physician and obtaining continuing education on sleep disorders are included in the policy statement.