Why Every Dental Student Should Study Sleep Apnea
In my childhood home, my parents’ room was roughly 20 feet from my bedroom. Every night, my parents’ left our bedrooms doors cracked for safety reasons. Since I’m a dinosaur for dental student standards at the old age of 28, my parents didn’t have intense monitoring systems so their old fashioned ears were the way they checked up on us in the middle of the night. My parents were night owls, so naturally my three siblings and I were fast asleep by the time they made it to bed after watching Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. I remember waking up in the wee hours of the morning to the sound of a freight train coming from my parents’ bedroom. My parents had the worst snoring problem. I always closed their bedroom door and my own in order to fall back asleep.
Plenty of sleep studies later, it’s no surprise my mom suffers from sleep apnea (my dad is too stubborn to go through a sleep study). Like many patients with sleep apnea, she despises the CPAP machine and continues to suffer from daytime sleepiness. Luckily for my Dad, he snores too, so he can’t really complain about my mom.
As dental students, we spend a lot of time filling out forms on the EPR pertaining to the patient’s medical history. We ask a number of questions to fully understand the patient’s systemic health before treating them. I’m sure any dental student can describe potential dental complications with diabetes or hypertension, but do we really know much about sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea has a significant number of comorbidities such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes and congestive heart failure. Sleep apnea is a serious condition that needs more attention by dentists. Sleep apnea often results in car accidents and decreased work/school productivity due to daytime sleepiness. Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) have up to 2-3 times the number of car accidents as individuals without sleep apnea.
I’ve had two experiences at the dental school worth mentioning. Last year, I saw a patient in clinic who was not satisfied with her night guard. She wanted a snore appliance. With the help of my group practice director and another faculty, we took the necessary steps to have a lab fabricate a mandibular advancement device to use at night. These appliances have been clinically proven as an effective treatment for mild-to-moderate sleep apnea. This is important as dentists since we can prescribe this form of treatment while working in conjunction with the patient’s physician. Some patients prefer this form of treatment over a CPAP machine. Perhaps my mom would benefit from this type of appliance.
The other exposure to sleep apnea involves an elective offered during lunchtime once a week with a local dentist and sleep apnea expert. The elective gives me a chance to fully understand the scope of how a dentist fits into the sleep apnea equation. There is a Texas State Board rule adopted this past May involving the dentist’s role in treating patients with OSA. As a future Texas dentist, I feel it’s necessary to educate myself while in school on how to assess and treat these patients. I recommend other students take advantage of any resources involving sleep apnea.
Lets just hope my parents haven’t disconnected my cell phone since I put them on blast on The Dental Geek.