Four dentists discuss their motivations, challenges, and rewards of treating patients who have obstructive sleep apnea.
Dental sleep medicine is now a viable career path for dentists looking to expand their professional horizons and help a growing number of patients who are experiencing sleep-related health problems.
But the bigger question is how? How can a dentist make the transition? What are some of the pitfalls to avoid? What are the unexpected rewards?
As the following four dental sleep medicine practitioners explain, there’s no single way to make the transition, just the one that works best for you, your practice, and your patients.
Don Johnson, DDS, Idaho
Don Johnson, DDS, has been providing dental sleep medicine services for about 10 years at his practice in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which includes the Northwest Snoring Center.
“The main reason I started doing sleep dentistry is because sleep apnea kills people,” Johnson says. “All you have to do is open the obituaries and you’ll see a young person who died of ‘natural causes.’ You don’t die of natural causes if you’re 39. More likely it was sleep apnea.”
And to that point, Johnson’s mission is clear: to save lives.
It’s a mission Johnson, who’s practiced general dentistry for 40 years, is quite passionate about. But his passion didn’t supersede preparation.
“You can’t do a weekend course and you’re qualified to practice sleep dentistry. It’s a huge investment in time and equipment,” says Johnson, who emphasizes that learning “everything that you can” about the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and its disorders is essential.
Johnson not only continued his education formally, but he also found a mentor with whom he spends time with regularly to better comprehend facets such as billing and building a referrer network. “You really have to learn how to work with physicians,” he says. “And you have to get paid, including learning how to bill medically—and hire specialists to help you. If you don’t accept insurance, you’re losing a lot.”