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What is my role as a dentist in managing patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome?


This summary is based on the position paper published by the Canadian Sleep Society on the role of dentistry in managing obstructive sleep apnea: Position paper by Canadian dental sleep medicine professionals regarding the role of different health care professionals in managing obstructive sleep apnea and snoring with oral appliances

Full Text (PDF)


The present Canadian position paper contains recommendations for the management by dentists of sleep-disordered breathing in adults with the use of oral appliances (OAs) as a treatment option for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The recommendations are based on literature reviews and expert panel consensus. OAs offer an effective, first-line treatment option for patients with mild to moderate OSA who prefer an OA to continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, or for severe OSA patients who cannot tolerate CPAP, are inappropriate candidates for CPAP or who have failed CPAP treatment attempts.

Sharing Expertise in Recognizing SDB

When the patient’s complaint is primary snoring with no sleepiness, the dentist must, before providing oral appliance therapy, refer the patient to a sleep physician or family physician to review the patient’s overall medical history and to exclude the presence of OSA.

For individuals who experience daytime sleepiness and in whom sleep apnea syndrome is suspected, the dentist must refer the patient to a sleep medicine physician or to a family physician, who will be responsible for assessing the risk and severity of sleep apnea.

Dentistry Roles

A dentist with adequate training and expertise in sleep medicine has several roles and responsibilities:
  • Recognize the symptoms of SDB. 
  • As appropriate, refer the patient to a physician with training in sleep medicine. 
  • Assess oral health and the sleep disruption consequences of concomitant bruxism (tooth grinding and/or clenching), gastroeosophagial reflux disease (GERD), orofacial pain and/or temporal headache. 
  • Manage, within his or her expertise, SDB, sleep bruxism, and the dental consequences of GERD and orofacial pain using the following: 
    • Sleep hygiene, a weight control and exercise program, and cognitive and behavioural approaches in collaboration with a psychologist and/or an MD, as indicated.
    • Orthodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, or otolaryngologist, as appropriate. 
  • Propose various oral appliances to the patient according to the patient’s oral health status and craniofacial morphology (occlusal splint, mandibular advancement appliance, tongue retaining device or equivalent), neurostimulation therapy (eg, biofeedback) and other appropriate therapies.
  • With a sleep physician, jointly monitor changes in sleep disorders and mental as well as physical health.
  • Monitor the efficacy and safety of the treatment effected with surgery, orthodontics or oral appliances using valid tools that the dentist can accurately interpret. It is important to emphasize that level III and IV portable monitoring devices (type III: Modified portable sleep apnea testing, minimum of four channels monitored, including ventilation or airflow [at least two channels of respiratory movement, or respiratory movement and airflow], heart rate or electrocardiogram and oxygen saturation; type IV: Continuous single or dual bioparameters, one or two channels, typically including oxygen saturation or airflow) (8) should be interpreted by physicians according to their diagnostic expertise. A dentist working with portable monitors should be able to accurately assess the results, which means the dentist will mainly observe changes in respiratory sleep parameters with treatment, but will not diagnose them as a final follow-up.
  • Manage side effects of oral appliance therapy as they develop.

Code of Practice

  • Dentists who offer SDB management must maintain a file containing the patient’s complete medical history including age, weight and height, plus neck or waist circumference as indicated, the presence of tonsils, tongue size, palate width and depth, malocclusion classification (including overjet and overbite measures), the presence of tooth erosion or tooth wear, and jaw and TMJ pain or tenderness.
  • When indicated, assessments of depression, mood and sleepiness(eg, the Epworth Sleepiness Scale) should be kept on file pretreatment and at various time points during treatment, as required by the provincial authorities.
  • Pretreatment panoramic or cephalometric radiographs or equivalent should be kept on file. Dental casts and models should be saved as required by provincial authorities. This pretreatment record establishes the baseline occlusion and is meant to minimize the need for repeated or unnecessary radiographs.
  • Dentists must initially provide patients with explanations and information on sleep behavioural therapy, including sleep hygiene, sleeping position and weight control, along with the type of orthotic device considered and all alternatives (eg, CPAP therapy, surgery or positional therapy).
  • Patients who are treated with an oral appliance must be followed to monitor oral hygiene when wearing the appliance and to ensure regular and correct use as well as any adaptations or side effects. This type of treatment requires close collaboration between the dentist and the sleep physician. For instance, whereas the dentist can perform the screening, the diagnosis must be made by a sleep physician.

Different Treatment Stages for SDB

  1. From the sleep physician, obtain a copy of the sleep record or the polysomnographic analysis and the sleep apnea diagnosis, the physician’s recommendations, and the assessments of concomitant conditions (eg,bruxism, hypertension or periodic limb movements).
  2. Perform a clinical assessment of the patient, including general and oral health, and the prognosis for soft and hard tissues to be affected by the use of the oral appliance. It is also important to assess recent and relevant radiographs as part of this examination.
  3. Obtain the patient’s written consent before fitting the appliance. The consent form should clearly indicate the potential and probable risks of using the oral appliance (eg, hypersalivation, tooth movement, pain or appliance breakage). The consent form must be signed by both the patient and the dentist.
  4. It is mandatory to maintain regular written communication with the patient’s physician and other health care professionals concerning the treatment plan, progress and follow-up.
  5. After initiating therapy, the dentist must collect information on the resolution of the patient’s symptoms to determine the optimal titration of the oral appliance. If the dentist can obtain objective data, for example with a portable monitor, this information should be used for purposes of titration only and not for follow-up assessments.
  6. Symptom progress must be monitored from the initiation of treatment with an oral appliance, after a titration period and after follow-up with the referring physician or sleep physician to determine whether treatment efficacy should be investigated. The dentist must obtain a follow-up report on the treatment efficacy from the referring sleep physician. In the case of unsatisfactory results, the dentist may extend the oral appliance titration or review the treatment plan with the patient. A diagnosed patient who suffers from primary snoring only (without apnea) does not require an objective follow-up assessment.
  7. Establish a follow-up protocol after the formal follow-up assessment. An annual follow-up is important to assess the continued efficacy of the treatment as well as treatment compliance, and to assess the side effects as well as the integrity of the oral structures under the influence of the appliance. The oral appliance may need to be replaced, depending on usage and hygiene.
  8. Ensure that the patient duly attends control visits and that communications between the referring physician and dentist are kept on file. Should additional titration periods be required, consult with the medical team.


Do you need further information on this topic? Do you have any comments or suggestions? Email us at oasisdiscussions@cda-adc.ca

Your are invited to comment on this post and provide further insights by posting in the comment box which you will find by clicking on “Leave a reply“ below. You are welcome to remain anonymous and your email address will not be posted.


  1. Dr. Gerald Glantz June 18, 2013

    Informed consent is paramount and patients should be advised of a negative side effect that rarely occurs when wearing an oral appliance, of permanent mandibular advancement. This results in a permanent edge to occlusion, or class 111 occlusion, and is irreversible.

  2. Dr Sylvain Chamberland June 18, 2013

    Would you have a french version of this letter: What is my role as a dentist in managing patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome?


    1. JCDA Oasis June 18, 2013

      Hello Dr. Sylvain, If you follow the link to the PDF article, you will see that the abstract has been translated to French. I am not aware of a French version of this article. We will seek more information from the Canadian Sleep Society. Many thanks for the inquiry. JCDA Oasis Team

  3. Janice June 25, 2013

    After reading this position paper, I would like to suggest that it not be accepted as a standard of care. Although there are many good suggestions, some of them are not practical and make it difficult for the average but knowledgeable GP dentist to be involved. I do not feel that most general dentists feel comfortable doing a psychological assessment for depression as mentioned in the “code of practice- second bullet”. I also do not feel that it is necessary to subject every patient to panorex on a regular basis prior to fabricating an oral appliance, nor do I believe that it is a reasonable way to monitor bite changes (as suggested in bullet 3). Also, at this point in time, some ambulatory monitors have been validated and I believe that most provincial governments are moving in the direction of using them when possible to save on expenditures with PSG’s and the position statement above does not give them enough credibility to allow for that. Finally, although only a physician can diagnose Sleep Apnea, there are many very qualified and certified dentists across the country who are educated and capable to have more responsibility than what the position paper suggests. When dentists take on more responsibility, they make it more efficient for the sleep physicians who are over run with work. Many general dentists are better educated and more involved with apnea than general MD’s. Hopefully there will be a standard of care set that will include educational requirements and credentialing, to be considered competent to treat sleep disorders as a dental professional in the near future.

  4. sahl March 30, 2020

    what is the causes of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome?


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