Sleep Breathing Disorders - Hygienists on the Front Line

January 2008
by Kent Smith, DDS, and Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH

The clock reads 1:00 as you walk into the reception area to claim your first patient after lunch. Mr. Pickwick, however, seems to be disinterested. Who would go to sleep when he is about to be retrieved by his favorite hygienist? If Joe is in REM sleep, he is already inappropriately dreaming about the voluptuous hygienist who cares. He has most likely drifted into Stage 1 sleep and can be easily awakened for his appointment. Maybe he stayed up late to finish a report. Maybe he was kept awake by a newborn. Or, maybe he has a sleep disorder that has yet to be identified by a physician.

Sleep disorders remain unidentified and undiagnosed 90 to 95 percent of the time. In fact, 40 million Americans suffer from a chronic, long-term sleep disorder. Starbucks sells 256,000 gallons of coffee every day, and many such drinks are in the hands of those people when they walk into the dental office. If they didn't show, maybe they overslept — or were arguing with their spouse over the snoring that created interrupted sleep. Nearly 25 percent of sleep partners sleep in separate rooms, and The New York Times reported recently that 60 percent of custom houses would have dual master bedrooms by 2015. So what, right?

Regrettably, a recent survey reported that 76 percent of physicians who are not sleep specialists do not screen their patients for sleep breathing disorders (SBD), and therefore do not refer their patients for testing and treatment. It's time for dentistry to step up to the plate.

The impact of sleep deprivation affects nearly all the body's systems affected by infl ammation. A recent study The impact of sleep deprivation affects nearly all the body's systems affected by inflammation. A recent study by the American Academy of Periodontology showed that lack of sleep ranked just under smoking as the No. 2 lifestyle factor negatively impacting oral health.