More and more dentists are being trained in the use of oral appliances for obstructive sleep apnea and in the area of dental anesthesia. While these procedures provide a wonderful service for the patient and additional revenue for the dentist, they do not come without additional exposure to dental malpractice insurance claims.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is defined as sleep-disordered breathing. This condition causes the person to experience a decreased or paused air flow during sleep when airways become blocked, floppy or narrowed which often produces loud snoring.
If a dentist suspects a patient may have sleep apnea then he or she should work together with a physician or dental sleep specialist to diagnose the disorder. If an oral appliance is recommended, the dentist providing this treatment should be properly trained and aware of licensing limitations regarding this appliance as serious injury or death could occur while patients are being treated with an oral device.
Dental malpractice insurance (also known as dental professional liability insurance) claims are on the rise with some attorneys specializing in the field. With dental anesthesia arguably being the number one claim, a patient with sleep apnea should be given special attention as they may be at a higher risk for complications when undergoing anesthesia. In normal sleep, a person with sleep apnea will usually waken when their breathing stops, however if they are under anesthesia and placed into a deep sleep they may be unable to awaken when they stop breathing.
To provide the best patient care and possibly avoid a dental malpractice insurance claim, a dentist should be aggressive in their risk management. The dentist should obtain complete health history, signed informed consent forms, keep complete treatment and ongoing care documentation including notes concerning physician consultations, and take appropriate precautions for patients who are suspected of having sleep apnea prior to any treatment. In addition, communication between all parties – the primary dentist, treating dentist, specialists, physicians, and the patient is vital in making sure that there is care consistency.