One of the most common questions I hear is “Is it worth it to treat sleep apnea?” The common excuses I am given area:
- I don’t feel like dealing with medical insurance.
- I don’t feel like I have the team to integrate it into my practice.
- I’m doing just fine without it.
Dr. William Dement, a sleep physician and considered the Godfather of sleep apnea in America, made two very profound statements.
“The great irony of the emergence of dental sleep medicine is that generations of the dentists have looked in the mouths of countless individuals with sleep-disordered breathing without knowing of the disorder.”
“Given that the dentist is often the first and only health care practicioner to look in the oral cavity, a good knowledge of sleep apnea should be part of the profession’s knowledge base.”
So, “Is it worth it to treat sleep apnea?” My immediate response is always the same. If you are interested in the the overall health of your patient then the answer is a resounding YES!
The problem as I see it is that we didn’t receive ANY training in dental school. In my opinion, it should be standard of care to screen your patients and refer for treatment.
As oral health care providers who stare in mouths and stare at airways all day long, we are the obvious choice to be screen patients.
Still need another reason? It is well regarded the patients see their dentists more often than they see their physicians. Often our patients aren’t even seeing their physicians until something hurts or isn’t feeling right.
I’d like to share a patient story with you.
Lee has been a patient in my office for nearly 12 years. He, like many of my patients, is faithful and regular.
It wasn’t until I began my training in dental sleep medicine 6 years ago, that our office first screened him for sleep apnea. Immediately, I recognized that something needed and should be done.
Despite pleas from myself and my hygienist, Lee always said he slept just fine. We even tried to refer him to his family physician. Lee reported to us that his physician said he was ‘just fine’.
At his most recent hygiene visit, I once again shared with him my sincere concern for his overall health, not just his sleep. Lee had the biggest tonsils I have ever seen and was a mouth breather. He finally accepted a referral to the ENT.
Honestly, I think he took the referral to just shut me up!
A few weeks later, I followed up with Lee. He couldn’t stop thanking me. It turns out, the ENT wanted to biopsy his tonsils. What they discovered was that Lee had Stage III lymphoma, and they believed the source was his tonsils.
Lee said he knew he made the right decision when the entire surgical center gathered around and took pictures of how large his tonsils were. You can see that they are so big, even the uvula was afraid of them!
So I go back to the original question “Is it worth it to treat sleep apnea?” The answer MUST be a emphatic YES!
Changing a patients smile is certainly amazing, but saving a patients life is, well, PRICELESS.
If you’re looking for a no-nonsense sleep apnea training, please consider the sleep apnea workshop I’ll be hosting with Dr. Tarun Agarwal in Raleigh, NC.
I promise you’ll walk away with a clear plan of action on getting started safely, ethically, and profitably.