This Dentist Was Forced to Provide Dental Sleep Medicine – And He Couldn't Be Happier

Dr. Pat Prendergast never intended to provide his patients dental sleep medicine. But when a shoulder operation cast doubt on his ability to continue practicing as he always had, he had no choice but to give sleep dentistry a try. Five years later, he unreservedly recommends that every general dentist offer his or her patients dental sleep medicine.

Dr. Pat Prendergast
Dr. Pat Prendergast of Advanced Dental Health in Centennial, Colorado

After 31 rewarding years of practicing general dentistry, Dr. Pat Prendergast was staring into the abyss.

His orthopedic surgeon told him flat out that, due to his recent shoulder replacement operation, it was doubtful he would be able to endure the physical demands that his successful restorative dentistry practice required.

“Devastated” is not sufficient to describe how Dr. Prendergast felt on receiving the news. He genuinely loved the dentistry he practiced at Advanced Dental Health, located in the Denver suburb of Centennial; loved his patients; and loved the fact that, as he recounts, “it took wonderful care of my family.”

As he contemplated losing his restorative dentistry career, the worst part was not the prospective loss of income; it was the prospective loss of purpose. After all, he’d chosen dentistry to serve others, and he wasn’t prepared to retire so soon.

Up until that point, Dr. Prendergast had never considered providing dental sleep medicine. In fact, he confesses, he was hardly even aware of it.

But after his shoulder surgery, Dr. Prendergast says, “I was pushed to look elsewhere.”

As he quickly discovered, dental sleep medicine is not only far less physically taxing – something his rebuilt shoulder would easily be able to handle – it was a near-perfect all-around fit, given his new circumstances.

Dr. Prendergast’s experience as a general dentist complemented the protocols and training necessary to be a great dental sleep practitioner. The treatments themselves, it turns out, are just as essential to restoring his patients’ quality of life – if not more essential – than those restorations on which he so prided himself in his general dentistry practice.

As for his patients, never before had so many of them returned to his practice to hug him and his front office team members. “They are so happy to be feeling better, to feel like they have the energy of their youth back,” he explains. “They’re getting better rest, and it’s no small thing to once again be able to sleep in the same bedroom with your partner.”

His Surgeon Was Mistaken

Flash forward nearly five years, and Dr. Prendergast is delighted to report that his surgeon was mistaken.

Yes, restorative dentistry continues to require as much physical endurance as ever, but his replacement shoulder has proven strong and durable enough to continue providing the complete array of general dentistry services that he had offered his patients prior to the surgery.

Still, Dr. Prendergast is no longer the same dentist.

Initially an unwilling recruit into the dental sleep medicine fold, today he is one of its biggest champions. Indeed, Dr. Prendergast unreservedly recommends that every general dentist offer his or her patients dental sleep medicine.

Yes, your income will grow.

Yes, you’ll put less strain on your back, neck, and shoulders.

And yes, you’ll be invigorated by the challenge of helping patients in an entirely new way.

But the overriding benefit of offering dental sleep medicine is that you’ll greatly improve the quality of your patients’ lives, and undoubtedly save many of them from a premature death.

“Sleep dentistry is an incredibly wonderful way to serve your patients as well as serve yourself,” he says.

What more could a dedicated dentist ask?

Acquire All Necessary Skills in a Single Weekend

Here’s something else that Dr. Prendergast learned after hanging his shingle as Advanced Sleep Care Centers of Colorado: By attending a quality course – such as the one now offered by DOCS Education and its acclaimed instructor, John H. Tucker, DMD – general dentists can acquire all the training they need to launch their new dental sleep medicine services in a single continuing education weekend.

John TuckerDr. Tucker, for example, not only teaches the best, proven, safest protocols for screening and treating patients, he also covers pain-free ways to navigate the medical billing that is required; demonstrates how to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with certified sleep physicians and OSA testing services; provides bulletproof techniques for preventing malpractice headaches; and explains how to utilize team members to dramatically reduce the dentist’s workload.

Despite the misgivings that some dentists have concerning dental sleep medicine – mostly based on myths and misinformation – Dr. Prendergast assures colleagues that it is easy to learn, easy to practice, easy to administer (thanks to third-party services), and easy to market. And no, your malpractice insurance rates will not increase.

Learn More About Dental Sleep Medicine and You

Dr. Prendergast Video

Click on the photo above to watch a short video of Dr. Prendergast explaining what dental sleep medicine has meant to his patients.

There are a variety of methods that general dentists who add dental sleep medicine to their practice use to attract patients. Many dentists rely on the marketing tools they already utilize – including postcards, newspaper and magazine ads, internet ads, and broadcast promotions – to draw new dental sleep medicine patients to their existing practice. Often, the new patients who come in with sleep issues stay on for their complete oral health care.

Dr. Prendergast elected an alternate route. At first, soon after receiving his training, he used very simple questionnaires that his patients could fill out while waiting in his reception area to identify those who reported symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

“Then we would have a discussion with them, and based on the discussion, they generally were asking us to help them [connect] with a sleep physician, get tested for sleep apnea, and figure out whether or not they have this problem,” he recalls.

While state laws prohibit dentists from medically diagnosing their patients, all dentists can – and should – screen their patients for OSA symptoms; then refer those who screen positive to a sleep physician who will issue a formal diagnosis.

OSA-related medical complications, as well as drowsy driving, kill more people annually by far than does oral cancer. Yet the vast majority of general dentists do not routinely screen for OSA, and many still are unaware that they can readily be trained to treat their patients for the serious condition.

A Comfortable Alternative to CPAP Machines

The best available estimates are that nationwide at least 10% of existing dental patients suffer from sleep disorders – and don’t even know it. Dr. Prendergast calls that estimate “dramatically too low.” In his practice, with an admittedly disproportionate number of older patients, he discovered that closer to 30% of his patient population show symptoms of OSA.

While the most common treatment for OSA is a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which patients use tethered to a facial mask, many people are miserable wearing the noisy, claustrophobic devices, or won’t wear them at all.

It was dentists who developed a safe, effective, comfortable, quiet alternative – the dental sleep appliance – which thousands of dentists (and physicians), who themselves suffer from OSA, choose over CPAP machines, as do millions of patients.

Dr. Prendergast made the decision to create an entirely separate professional corporation for his dental sleep medicine practice rather than weave it into his existing general dentistry practice, as many other dentists do.

Moreover, rather than marketing his dental sleep medicine services directly to patients, he has concentrated on alerting other area dentists who do not have OSA training that he can treat their patients for disrupted sleep. Dr. Prendergast assures those dentists who refer patients to him for sleep disorders that they will be the ones who continue to provide all other general dentistry services.

Likewise, Dr. Prendergast networks with area physicians to alert them that he can provide a dental sleep appliance to any of their patients who’ve been diagnosed with OSA, but who can’t tolerate a CPAP machine.

Whether sleep dentists market directly to the public, or like Dr. Prendergast, focus on marketing their services to other health care professionals, one of the most rewarding aspects of a sleep dentistry practice is the partnership a dentist builds with physicians in the community.

Physicians aren’t capable of correctly fitting patients with dental sleep appliances, and dentists don’t want to take responsibility for the comorbidities that so many OSA patients present with. “The physician will take care of that for you,” Dr. Prendergast explains.

Other general dentists needn’t stare into the abyss, as Dr. Prendergast did, before they explore the many ways that dental sleep medicine will transform their lives, and more importantly, the lives of their patients.

“Dental sleep medicine will reenergize you and teach you a great number of new things,” Dr. Prendergast attests. Along with their in-house teams, and a supportive group of community physicians, dentists stand at the forefront, as he describes it, of the nationwide “effort to tackle this monster of sleep apnea.”

“Dentistry is very well positioned to be the gatekeeper on sleep dentistry and sleep medicine,” he adds.

[Editor’s Note: Registration is now open for Master Series: Dental Sleep Medicine, the two-day DOCS Education course taught by Dr. John H. Tucker. The next class will be held May 19-20 in Chicago. The course will prepare dentists and their team members to begin implementing their new training immediately. No additional licensing or certification is required to provide patients dental sleep appliances for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. 15 credit hours.]

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