top of page

Sleep Appliances

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The Role Of The Dental Hygienist In Screening Patients For Sleep Apnea

By: Setina Evans RDH

June 23, 2020


From routine dental cleanings to educating the patients , the Dental Hygienist plays a crucial role in preventive dentistry through the interaction with patients.


As such, the Dental Hygienist may be the first to recognize a patient that might be suffering from sleep apnea. The Dental Hygienists offer recommendations based on a patient’s individual needs, which might include advice on sleep.



The Role of the Dental Hygienist in Sleep Apnea


Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Snoring are breathing disorders that occur during sleep as a result of narrowing or total closure of the airway. Snoring is a sound or noise created by the partial closure of the airway.


In some cases snoring may be indicative of a more serious disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a serious condition where the airway totally closes many times during the night and can significantly reduce oxygen levels in the body resulting in disrupted sleep causing excessive daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that often requires long-term management. Dentists and Dental hygienists have become more involved in the treatment of sleep apnea over the last 10 years .


Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed because most people who suffer from this condition don’t even realize they have it. Since patients visit their dentist more often than they visit their doctor, a Dental Hygienist plays a critical role in screening and caring for patients with sleep breathing disorders.

 A Dental Hygienist who has received  proper education and training about sleep apnea, will not ignore the signs and symptoms of this potentially deadly condition.


Some initial screenings may reveal that  patients might snore, feel tired all the time, or knew someone who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, but never sought treatment.


A Dental Hygienist can play an important role in the recognition of sleep disorders by adding questions to the standard dental history or by using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. While asking patients questions about their dental healthcare or medical history, it is important to get a better understanding of their day-to-day habits beyond brushing and flossing.   The following questions  can be asked at their regular dental visits:

  • Do you snore?

  • Can you breathe through your nose?

  • Do you wake up tired in the morning?

  • Do you become extremely tired or fall asleep during the day?


Each question is important in order to determine the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea in the patient. 


Patient Education


In addition to educating patients about the complications of oral disease, it is important to educate them about the dangers of sleep apnea and the available  treatment options. Through the knowledge of sleep apnea, patients can become better informed of this potentially deadly disease before it worsens.


Treatment  for sleep apnea depends on the severity of the disorder. An individual with mild sleep apnea may need to make behavioral changes such as altering the sleeping position, losing weight, or quitting smoking, as well as wearing a dental appliance during sleep which looks similar to an athletic mouthguard that repositions the jaw and the tongue to improve airflow.


Individuals diagnosed with mild to moderate sleep apnea are ideal candidates for  improvement with therapy than those who are severely affected. Oral appliances are designed to assist breathing by protruding the mandible, keeping the tongue forward thereby opening the airway space in the throat.

Many Dentists have undergone special training for the treatment of sleep apnea and are very skilled in its management using behavioral modification and dental appliances, but a confirmed diagnosis from a sleep medicine specialist is required before any treatment can be administered.


Any sleep disorder which affects breathing may potentially represent a health risk , therefore it is strongly advised that the patients consult their physician or sleep specialist for accurate diagnosis of their conditions.  Sleep apnea  can go undiagnosed for many years. It is important to keep an open and honest dialogue with health care professionals to ensure that conditions such as sleep apnea  be identified and properly treated.

A Dental Hygienist can explain to the patients how an oral appliance works and how it would be custom-made specifically for their individual needs so they can sleep with an unobstructed airway, potentially eliminating the need for a CPAP machine.



Dentists and Dental Hygienists work as a team in the treatment and diagnosis of oral healthcare issues and in the identification and treatment of sleep apnea in patients.


If you wish  to get started on screening your patients for Sleep Apnea and other sleep breathing disorders? Find out more at sleep group solutions.




bottom of page