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The vital role of dentists in managing orofacial pain and sleep apnea

In the field of dentistry, the primary focus has long been on ensuring the health of teeth and gums, diagnosing oral diseases, and creating beautiful smiles. However, there are two interconnected health concerns that often go unnoticed and undiagnosed within dental practices: orofacial pain and sleep apnoea.

Dentists’ unique role

Orofacial pain encompasses a wide range of conditions, including temporomandibular disorders (TMD), headaches, facial pain, and other related disorders. Sleep apnoea, on the other hand, is a serious sleep disorder characterized by repetitive pauses in breathing during sleep, leading to fragmented sleep and a myriad of health complications. Though seemingly distinct, orofacial pain and sleep apnoea share an important connection—both can be attributed to abnormalities in the upper airway and temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

Traditionally, the management of orofacial pain and sleep apnoea has been predominantly led by physicians and specialists in sleep medicine. However, recent research and clinical evidence have shed light on the essential role that dentists can play in the comprehensive care of these conditions. Dentists possess a unique understanding of the oral cavity, jaw structure, and the interplay between dental occlusion, TMJ function, and airway anatomy. This knowledge, coupled with their expertise in managing oral health, positions them as an integral part of the multidisciplinary team addressing orofacial pain and sleep apnoea.

Dentists are also in a unique position to screen and have their patients sent over for diagnosis followed by managing those who cannot tolerate CPAP therapy. Through this process of screening and managing orofacial pain and sleep apnoea, dentists can also help address comorbidities.

Orofacial pain prevalence may vary

The prevalence of orofacial pain can vary depending on the specific type of pain and the population being studied. For example, TMD–which refers to a group of conditions affecting the jaw joint and associated muscles, varies widely with estimates ranging from 5% to 12% of the population. It includes symptoms such as jaw pain, clicking or popping jaw joints and difficulty in opening or closing the mouth.

Conditions such as trigeminal neuralgia and postherpetic neuralgia can also cause severe orofacial pain. The prevalence of these conditions is relatively low, estimated to affect less than 1% of the population.

Additionally, certain types of headaches, such as tension-type headaches and migraines, can involve orofacial pain. The prevalence of these headache disorders is higher, with tension-type headaches affecting around 30% of the population and migraines affecting around 10-15%.

It’s important to note that the prevalence of orofacial pain can also be influenced by factors such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, and access to health care.

Sleep apnoea is common

As a common disorder, the exact prevalence of sleep apnoea can vary depending on the population studied and diagnostic criteria used. It is estimated that sleep apnoea affects a significant portion of the population worldwide.

In the general population, the prevalence of sleep apnoea in adults is estimated to be around 9% to 38%. However, the prevalence may be higher in certain groups, such as older individuals and those with obesity. It is also more prevalent among men than women. Yet the gap narrows after menopause.

It’s worth noting that many cases of sleep apnoea remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, so the true prevalence may be higher than reported. Additionally, the field of sleep medicine continues to evolve, and new research and diagnostic techniques may lead to updated prevalence estimates in the future.

Improve patients’ quality of life

By implementing the management of orofacial pain and sleep apnoea, dentists have the potential to improve patients’ quality of life significantly. Addressing orofacial pain can alleviate chronic discomfort, headaches, and jaw dysfunction, allowing patients to regain optimal oral function and enjoy pain-free lives. Similarly, the identification and treatment of sleep apnoea can lead to enhanced sleep quality, reduced daytime fatigue, and a decreased risk of associated systemic conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

In this article, we will explore the reasons why dentists should embrace their expanding role in managing orofacial pain and sleep apnoea. We will delve into the unique advantages they bring to the table, such as their expertise in oral examination, the ability to identify occlusal and TMJ abnormalities, and their proficiency in fabricating oral appliances for therapy. Additionally, we will discuss the importance of collaboration between dentists, physicians, and sleep specialists to ensure a comprehensive and holistic approach to patient care.

Differentiate your practice

Incorporating the management of orofacial pain and sleep apnoea into dental practices can help attract new patients and differentiate the practice from competitors. Many individuals suffering from these conditions may not be aware that dentists can play a significant role in their treatment. By offering these specialized services, dentists can expand their patient base and provide value-added services that set their practice apart.

It is important to note that dentists should pursue additional education, training, and certification in the management of orofacial pain and sleep apnoea to ensure they have the necessary expertise and skills to provide optimal care.

Less impact on medical resources

Additionally, there is less impact on medical resources for chronic pain sufferers. We know that those who suffer from chronic pain continue to seek out resources and relief through health care services. But with dentists screening and treating orofacial pain, there will be less use of medical resources such as seeing a doctor for medications that don’t work or multiple imaging tools.

Now is the time to take charge of your dental practice to offer further resources for patients with orofacial pain or sleep apnoea.

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