Why dentists should screen for sleep apnea

Posted on April 19, 2016 by Dr. Erin Elliott

Dentists are oral health care providers who stare in mouths and at airways all day long. Why should dentists care about sleep?

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