Sleep Apnea: Providing Patients with a Treatment Alternative

Author : Dental Product Shopper
Published Date 02/01/2011
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The face of general dentistry is changing daily and as these changes occur, more dentists are exploring the possibility of incorporating sleep medicine into their daily practice. This treatment is one of the fastest growing services provided in general dental practices. As health care providers, we cannot ignore the recent press acknowledging the potentially dramatic effects of poor oral health on the body as a whole, which is why dental sleep medicine strikes such a cord with many practitioners.

Sleep Apnea: Providing Patients with a Treatment Alternative

The face of general dentistry is changing daily and as these changes occur, more dentists are exploring the possibility of incorporating sleep medicine into their daily practice. This treatment is one of the fastest growing services provided in general dental practices. As health care providers, we cannot ignore the recent press acknowledging the potentially dramatic effects of poor oral health on the body as a whole, which is why dental sleep medicine strikes such a cord with many practitioners.

Patients often ask dentists about medical issues, and collaboration between dentists and physicians is becoming commonplace. Adding the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) to your services allows patients to be treated conservatively and successfully.

Why the Need?

Approximately 40% of adults over age 40 snore regularly and 70% of snorers have some level of sleep apnea. This translates into 87 million Americans at risk for sleep apnea. A recent Johns Hopkins? study found that men between 40 and 70 years of age with severe sleep apnea were twice as likely to die over an 8-year period compared to their peers who did not suffer from the condition. Less than 10% of people who suffer from OSA have been diagnosed, and less than 25% of those have been successfully treated. It all adds up to a public health issue that begs for more effective treatments.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is still considered the gold standard for treating OSA. However, compliance is a problem. It is estimated that less than 75% of CPAPs are in use 1 year after diagnosis. Patients don?t like the noise, maintenance, and cumbersome masks and hoses. Many patients also comment on the lack of portability, so they are turning to oral appliances. There are many to choose from, all offering various benefits, and all more generally acceptable to the OSA population. To meet this need, more dentists are beginning to offer oral appliances to their patients and are searching for the advanced training necessary to treat and maintain this population of chronic sufferers.

3 Steps to Patient Acquisition

The are multiple avenues to acquire sleep patients? affiliations with sleep centers and sleep physicians, our own patient bases, and external marketing efforts. We use all 3 in our practice, and we find advantages and disadvantages to each of them.

With sleep centers and sleep physicians, one must make sure that the referral relationship is reciprocal and that patients benefit from cooperation and treatment success. Sleep centers must handle diagnosis and confirmation of treatment, and dentists can treat those patients who are either CPAP intolerant or refuse to try CPAP. Dentists rely on physicians to provide the feedback necessary about whether the appliances are doing the job, and cooperation between the two is imperative for the patient to receive the best possible outcome.

Having a trained staff observing your own patient base is necessary in general practices. We use the Epworth and Berlin evaluation forms to screen those patients who answer ?yes? to questions on the health history that indicate a potential problem. Simply asking them or their bed partner if they snore can point out a potential problem.

Finally, external marketing efforts like radio, TV, print, and Internet directories all add to the potential pool of patients who can be helped with oral appliances. It is important to differentiate between marketing to snorers and marketing to those who have CPAPs but refuse to use them. They each require a different message and a different protocol for treatment, but the message is one that resonates with the public and response is usually very good.

Systems + Training = Success

Developing a successful dental sleep medicine practice involves a combination of the right marketing and the right systems. It is imperative that they operate together so that you deliver excellent clinical outcomes and also ensure that you get paid for treating the patient. The most significant issue we see with dentists trying to develop dental sleep practices is that the clinical training far outweighs the administrative training. The decision to treat sleep patients must address the financial policies of your office, the training necessary for administrative staff to handle patient communications, and the systems to provide the necessary follow up for these patients and their referring physicians.

Results for Your Practice and Your Patients

Setting your protocols is necessary to ensure that you achieve predictable results for the sleep patient. When you provide an easy experience for your patients, you can be confident that physicians will continue to refer to you.

While the decision to enter the field of dental sleep medicine can present challenges, your experience will be a positive one if you invest in the necessary training for both yourself and your staff. We encourage you to reach for clinical excellence and have your administrative staff trained to handle the protocols of the dental sleep practice. The combination of a well-trained office and excellent protocols yields terrific results.

Mark and Cynthia Levy own LyonsGate Practice Management. Dr. Levy is in private practice in Columbus, Ohio, specializing in dental sleep medicine. Cynthia?s expertise involves the hands-on management and training of dental practices. They are available for in-office training to develop your dental sleep practice. They also serve as consultants to general dental practices. Contact them at www.lyonsgatepracticemanagement.com.

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