Sleep Apnea and the Texas Dentist:

 At the quarterly Texas State Board of Dental Examiners (TSBDE) meeting, the members put marketing for sleep apnea services squarely into their bulls’ eye with a promised Policy Statement when they next convene. Increasingly, Dentists have been offering this service as a means of not only expanding their patient base but also providing additional healthcare options to the community.

However, several Board members raised concerns over the proliferation of this practice and whether or not this area lies beyond the medical skill sets of Dentists. Opening the discussion, Dr. Bradley Dean stated that sleep apnea diagnostics were “CLEARLY beyond the scope of Dentists’ skills and professional abilities…we see the Dentist as a ‘therapist’ at best in this area.”

Dr. Maxwell Finn echoed this concern, citing that no other State Board in the country allows diagnosis of sleep apnea by Dentists, with the exception of Florida, and that sleep apnea can evolve from multiple clinical causes with Dentists simply not qualified to be diagnosing. Dr. Bill Birdwell seconded that sentiment, having consulted with several of his medical colleagues who were “heavily” into sleep apnea treatment and stated that “Dentists should ABSOLUTELY NOT be diagnosing” since, as Dr. Finn stated this could involve 90-plus different related medical issues. The bottom line in all these discussions was that Dentists should limit their participation in the sleep apnea arena to simply working with physicians in providing prescribed appliances for patients. 

Although this represents a significant shift for a number of Dental practices, the most telling portion of the Board discussion came from Board Presiding Officer, Dr. Tamela Gough who pinpointed the actual reason for this agenda item. This subject has reached the TSBDE radar because they are seeing more and more practices and Dentists using this as a marketing tool to recruit new patients. Interestingly enough, she stated that they have no problem with Dentists working with their existing patients who may suffer from sleep apnea, but this should be nipped in the bud as a strategy to attract new patients to their practices. To reinforce this rationale, Dr. Finn also referenced this as a marketing “scheme” and Chairman of the TSBDE Advertising Rules Ad-Hoc Committee, Dr. Rudy Ramos, Jr. added to fuel to this discussion noting that one lab he personally knows of in Dallas is making connections between physicians and Dentists with regard to the fabrication of appliances. 

Both Drs. Gough and Finn referred this issue to the Board legal staff for further review and development, instructing them to have a TSBDE Policy Statement ready for review and possible adoption by the next meeting. Dr. Gough envisions that this will act in a similar fashion to their past Policy Statements regarding Dentists administering Botox and working in the area of sleep cessation therapies. While this statement will not yield new regulations, it WILL serve as another area where sanctions may be applied to Dentists in Texas.

So, what does this mean to you? If you’re currently using any form of sleep apnea therapy as a marketing tool for your practice or offering these services publicly, you’re now on the TSBDE radar and can look for them to be lowering the boom in your very near future.