We are becoming a nation of zombies. No, not the flesh-eating kind; I’m talking about millions of Americans who are stumbling through their day trying to exist on very little sleep. More than 30% of American adults are getting less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night, according to a 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And that’s a huge problem.


Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress. Not to mention motor vehicle accidents. And millions of children and teenagers are falling asleep in class.


What’s keeping us from getting the rest we so desperately need? Sure, it’s hard to fall asleep when you’re stressed out from work, family obligations, or school, or you’re binge-watching Netflix. But there’s a more serious underlying reason—sleep apnea—and as a dentist, you can help—and grow your practice at the same time.


Dental sleep medicine deals with managing sleep disorders, including snoring and sleep apnea, primarily by using custom-fit oral appliances provided exclusively by a dentist. Although this specialized practice area has been around for about 30 years, new technologies such as 3D imaging have enabled dentists to play a bigger role in diagnosing airway obstructions that can cause or aggravate sleep apnea.


A huge market

Nearly 10% of Americans—an estimated 22 million—are living with obstructive sleep apnea, but 80% of those with moderate to severe sleep apnea have not even been diagnosed and treated yet, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association (the International Federation of Sleep puts the number at closer to 90%).


Making matters worse, up to 50% of sleep apnea patients do not adhere to the continuous positive airway pressure machine and mask recommended as a first line of treatment,” said Kathleen Bennett, DDS, president of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), in a 2015 article in DentistryIQ. “There is a great need for sleep apnea treatment, and dentists who practice dental sleep medicine provide a treatment that is easier to live with, proven effective, and in high demand among both patients and sleep physicians.”


Dentists can play a particularly important role in treating patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) who cannot tolerate Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP/APAP) devices or are not candidates for treatment modalities such as orthotropics/orthodontics or surgery. For those patients, wearing an oral (dental) appliance that pushes the lower jaw forward or pushes the tongue down has been shown to be effective in opening airways for sleep apnea that is mild to moderate.


Currently, there are more than 80 different kinds of oral appliances for sleep apnea available; the market is expected to double by 2020, and custom oral appliances will see significant revenue growth according to DentistryIQ.  


Dentists who have added sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment to their practice report say the average sleep apnea patient is worth about $2,400 in the first 9 months, according to a survey conducted by The Wealthy Dentist. One survey respondent said he sees a couple of hundred sleep patients every year, averaging $3,000-$3,500 per patient, and that these patients also lead to many TMJ cases as well as full-mouth reconstructions. Most patients, he noted, seek him out because of an inability to tolerate CPAP devices.


Dentist-physician collaboration is essential

Dentists who are trained in dental sleep medicine can be an integral part of a multi-disciplinary team with sleep physicians to close the OSA treatment gap and ensure that medical necessity requirements, insurance billing, potential medical liabilities, and other factors are covered. Two important functions dentists can fulfill include:


  • Identifying at-risk patients: dentists are well-positioned to spot those who are at risk for OSA and refer them to a trained sleep physician for further diagnosis and treatment planning.
  • Treating with oral appliance therapy: dentists who are trained in dental sleep medicine can treat diagnosed patients with oral appliances, coordinating treatment with sleep physicians during follow-up visits to verify treatment effectiveness.


So important is the physician-dentist collaboration that in 2015 the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM) and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released the first official joint guideline on oral appliance therapy, which clarifies roles to ensure an effective working relationship. Partnerships between qualified dentists and physicians also increase the scope of a dentist’s dental sleep medicine practice.


Should you add sleep apnea to your practice?

If you are considering adding dental sleep medicine to your scope of services, here are some key considerations:


  1. Assess your practice in the same way that you would before developing and executing any practice development program, including:
    1. Demographics
    2. Practice maturity
    3. “Ideal patient” characteristics
    4. Types of dentistry your practice wants to promote
  2. Get proper training to practice dental sleep medicine
  3. Screen current patients for sleep apnea symptoms during routine dental visits. Evaluate how many patients may be affected and decide if you have enough existing patients to make adding dental sleep medicine a profitable step.
  4. Build a network of physicians with which you could collaborate on sleep apnea diagnoses/treatments.
  5. Make sure you’re listed in the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine’s trained dentist directory (http://www.aadsm.org/FindADentist.aspx?1


Finally, integrate your sleep apnea practice into your overall business plan and work with a dental marketing partner who can deliver REAL results. Let Iconic Orange help you create and execute a system-agnostic, integrated program specially designed for your practice.


Email us today to set up your initial consultation.


For more information on the growth of Sleep Apnea devices please visit: https://www.dentalaegis.com/idt/2017/02/partial-dentures-sleep-apnea-devices-present-opportunities-for-growth