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Dr. Roy Novick
Dr. Roy Novick, D.D.S.

It all starts with screening. Successful dental sleep practices are all proficient at screening. It makes sense. After all, you need to screen patients in order to test those at risk for respiratory sleep disorders,  Without accurate screening, the whole cycle breaks down.

But many practices struggle to implement a successful screening regime. It’s not for lack of effort, but sometimes the effort is misguided. Think about it like this: who interacts with the most patients, new and returning, in your office every week? It’s the hygienists. To effectively screen your patient base, you need to get your hygienists onboard.

But hygienists are often reluctant to screen patients for sleep-related breathing disorders. Why is this? Two reasons: time constraints and fear of patient questions they can’t answer. But, as you will soon see, with the right process in place, these are not really sticking points at all.

Let’s address each of these concerns:

Time Constraints

Hygienists are under a lot of pressure time-wise. They have many patients to see each day, with multiple tasks to complete with each one. Understandably, they are not eager to add to their workload. Anything that extends patient appointments will throw off their whole schedule. The key is to streamline, simplify and build the process into their normal routine. Hygienists already need to review a patient’s medical history for changes during each visit. This provides a perfect opportunity to segue into a sleep screening. A few short questions, instead of an open-ended conversation will keep the screening short and concise, adding only a minute or so to each visit allowing the hygienists to get on with their job. The right phrasing, with a compassionate delivery, will keep the screening short and to the point, while also leaving the tough questions for the dentist. This brings us to the next point:

Fear of Questions

Screening at the right time with the right phrasing can take all the pressure off the situation. Right after the medical history review, the hygienist just needs to say something like this: “We are screening for an epidemic. Would you mind answering a few more questions for our records?” This makes it easy for the hygienist to screen and easy for the patient to answer. The hygienist makes notes in the file. This allows the dentist, who is more than capable to answer patient questions, to begin the conversation about dental sleep medicine during the patient examination later, i.e. “I see here that you have been experiencing daytime sleepiness…”

Sincerity is key to this whole process. In fact, we find that a face-to-face approach works best. As dental sleep medicine practitioners, we care about the patient’s general health, not just their teeth and gums. These are patients who are silently suffering from a serious condition, which if left untreated could have terrible consequences. These simple questions could be the questions that save their life:

“Do you wake up during the night frequently?”

“Do you feel tired during the day?”

“Have you been told you snore?”

Roy Novick is theSenior Vice President of Clinical Training for N3Sleep. After 35 years practicing dentistry, Dr. Novick helps dental practices across the country implement effective, successful dental sleep medicine programs.

Originally published in Dental Sleep Insider Magazine, January 2017

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