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Dental Sleep Medicine is a growing trend in dental services. Dental Sleep Medicine expert Jan Palmer hopes more dentists will develop the knowledge to treat their patients who have obstructive sleep apnea, so these patients can have healthier and longer lives. 


Dental Sleep Medicine is the treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea by a qualified dentist, as outlined in joint publication from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. More and more dentists and their teams are becoming familiar with this niche in dentistry and support their patients in diagnosis and treatment, in collaboration with local physicians who specialize in sleep medicine. 

Some treatments for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea include oral appliances that dentists custom fit in partnership with a dental lab. Worn like a sports mouthpiece guard, on both the upper and lower teeth, these oral appliances are designed to either open the jaws or suppress the tongue which keeps the tongue from falling back to block the airway during sleep.


What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA is the partial or full blockages of your airway while you are sleeping. It’s the result of the muscles of the throat relaxing to a point where they collapse and the tongue falls back, allowing less air to flow in and out of your lungs or stopping breathing. This condition is associated with snoring. Children can suffer from obstructive sleep apnea as well as adults.

Fortunately, the brain will wake you up to resume breathing, but during the time you are not breathing your body is not receiving all the oxygen it needs. When your body wakes itself up, you may be fully roused or unaware of it. Either way, your sleep is interrupted, and its quality compromised which has health consequences.

OSA affects approximately 4% of men and 2% of women. Despite its prevalence, only about 10% of sufferers seek treatment. Because dentists are in an ideal position to examine patients’ airways, see the relative size of the tongue to the airway, and discuss snoring and other symptoms with their patients, dentists are on the front line of helping patients realize they need proper diagnosis and treatment.

In addition to the term Obstructive Sleep Apnea, you may hear the word Hypopnea, which refers to shallow breathing or severely decreased airflow leading to a decreased level of oxygen in the patient’s blood. 


Diagnosing Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Snoring is one of the 75 sleep disorders recognized as a medical disease. However, there is no medical coverage for a primary diagnosis of snoring. There is, however, medical coverage for the diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea by a physician. Because OSA can often be treated in a dental office, physicians and dentists refer to each other and support each other in helping patients.

A dentist who treats snoring without a definitive diagnosis or ruled-out diagnosis leaves themselves liable should anything happen to this patient because they are treating a medical condition without following proper procedure.

Although dental professionals cannot diagnose OSA, but they can certainly recommend that a patient seek further treatment by having a sleep study to determine if OSA is present. The medical doctor assumes the ultimate responsibility to oversee the patient’s medical care.


Expense of Getting Started with Dental Sleep Medicine

A dentist can get started in dental sleep medicine to enhance the quality of life of their patients who have been diagnosed with little-to-no equipment costs. Once they have learned the basics of the disease and understand the condition they are treating, it’s easy to get started.

Other than clinical training and administrative staff training about dental sleep medicine, the only expense would be a gauge to measure the mandibular protrusion. Everything else, including a panoramic X-ray machine, basic set-ups, impression trays and material, is already in the office. All you need is education.


How to Get Reimbursed by Insurance

Jan Palmer provides answers to questions many dentists have about getting started in sleep apnea treatment. In particular, she explains how dental practices can be reimbursed by insurance. For more information on her services, you may email her at jpalmer@dentalconsultantconnection.com.

Patient Prism’s blog features related videos on Medical Dental Billing by industry expert Christine Taxin. An introduction to Medical Dental Billing is presented in her video-blog titled Getting Started with Medical Dental Billing

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