Has your doctor or sleep specialist advised you to consult a sleep medicine dentist about snoring, apnea, or sleep-disordered breathing? If so, be sure you’re consulting with a dentist in possession of a credential from the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM) or American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine (ABDSM), which is the credentialing part of the organization.
This board-certified credential means the dentist has received supplementary training in sleep medicine through an optional, specialized course of training that comes after dental school. This training indicates that the dentist has a full understanding of the underlying causes of sleep-related breathing issues like snoring and apnea, and the role dentistry can play in intervening in these issues—both for children and adults.
Dental sleep medicine is still a fairly young field, and most dental schools do not offer specialized training in it—so to find a dentist who has the right training, you can ask your sleep specialist for a referral or you can search the dentist directory on the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine website. Dentists included in the directory are either Qualified Dentists or Diplomates. According to the AADSM:
Dentists who’ve undergone AADSM training and credentialing have passed through a rigorous set of requirements granting them the expertise and knowledge to practice dental sleep medicine. They have studied, they have significant sleep lab hours, and they’ve passed a comprehensive exam process that proves their competence.
If your sleep medicine dentist has this training, you can trust that they are specially trained to use oral appliance therapy (OAT) to help treat snoring, apnea, mouth-breathing, and other sleep-disordered breathing issues. OAT is a therapeutic approach designed by dentists, to use a wearable, oral medicine appliance to help open the airway and facilitate breathing during sleep. For pediatric patients and adults who have mild to moderate sleep apnea or who cannot tolerate CPAP mask therapy, OAT is considered an effective front-line treatment.
How does having this specialized board certification make a dentist qualified to help treat sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or sleep-disordered breathing (SDB)?
Board certification in sleep medicine dentistry involves rigorous training; certification is not a quick credential dentists can purchase online or complete in a single weekend. To qualify to practice dental sleep medicine in the United States or Canada, dentists complete lab hours in a sleep clinic and need to submit detailed case studies proving they have knowledge of both sleep medicine and dental therapies. They must also pass an exam to become a Diplomate.
Let’s take a closer look at the AADSM/ABSDM credential: the history, relevance and importance of the organization granting certification, and the highly sought after credential itself.
The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine was founded in 1991 by a small group of dentists with a mission: “To advance the dentist’s role in the treatment of sleep-disordered breathing through professional education, practice standards, collaborative care, clinical research and public relations.” As the organization’s official history points out, it’s “the only non-profit national professional society dedicated exclusively to the practice of dental sleep medicine. The AADSM is the leading national organization for dentists who use oral appliance therapy to manage sleep-disordered breathing, which includes snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.”
Board-certified sleep medicine dentists can fit qualifying patients with custom medical devices, similar to sports mouth guards, that can be worn during sleep. Though these oral appliances have varying styles and designs, most slide over the teeth and pull the lower jaw forward slightly, creating additional room at the back of the throat for the tongue and loose soft tissue that can cause airway obstructions. These devices are personally-fit to patients of all ages, including children, and can be adjusted by the dentist over time—a particularly important factor when treating children and managing their facial growth.
Oral appliance therapy isn’t new. This approach to treating apnea and sleep-disordered breathing has been known since the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that sleep specialists reviewed the medical literature and determined that it was an effective frontline or alternative treatment approach for airway problems. In response to this conclusion, the AADSM developed guidelines for evaluating patients and prescribing OAT for the long-term management of mild to moderate airway-related sleep disorders.
Thanks to the increasing popularity of this treatment—which many apnea patients find more tolerable and comfortable than CPAP therapy—more and more dentists showed an interest in learning about this therapy. As a result, the AADSM has gone through an explosion in membership in just thirty years, paralleling and in many cases advancing the research community’s growing understanding of airway issues and how dentistry may play a role in helping to treat them.
Today, the non-profit professional organization runs the leading board certification program and facility accreditation program in dental sleep medicine (the ABSDM), ensuring that sleep medicine dentistry as a field is standardized and can be trusted by patients and sleep medicine specialists alike.
In addition to training and credentialing its members, the AADSM also offers practice resources for ongoing dental sleep medicine education; creates educational documents and brochures; and maintains an extensive membership directory, enabling physicians and patients to find board-certified dentists in every U.S. State and in Canada.
Today, the AADSM has 3,000 members. It holds annual meetings, runs a peer-reviewed journal called Sleep and Breathing, and gives out distinguished service, academic, and clinical research awards to recognize the contributions of dentists and clinicians to the advancement of dental sleep medicine and surgery.
In the U.S., the AADSM credential is proof that a dentist or practice is qualified to practice oral appliance therapy. Having this credential means you can trust that the oral appliances offered and custom-fit by a board-certified sleep medicine dentist are FDA-approved and safe for use by children and adults.
Additionally, this credential indicates that a dentist has a depth of experience working with board-certified sleep specialists. Sleep medicine dentists can “speak the language” of sleep. They are fully aware of the health complications that arise from untreated apnea and related sleep disorders. Their specialized training in sleep medicine allows them to coordinate your care with your sleep specialist, ensuring you have the right oral therapy to treat your snoring, apnea, or breathing issues.
Lastly, remaining credentialed requires continued education in dental sleep medicine and its ongoing developments. To continue caring for patients, qualified dentists must be able to demonstrate that they’ve received continuing education within the last two years, from either a non-profit like AADSM or from an accredited dental school.
Gaining an AADSM credential is arduous and time-consuming. Any dentist with this credential is not “dabbling” in oral appliance therapy—they are fully committed to mastering this approach and using it to help children and adults with breathing and sleeping concerns that may negatively affect their health. (And, in the case of children with sleep problems, their physical, cognitive, and emotional development.)
Dentists who work hard to earn AADSM certification understand that by improving a patient’s breathing, they’re playing a pivotal role in improving their sleep; and by improving their sleep, they’re helping to boost the individual’s general health and quality of life. Dental sleep medicine is about more than just oral health; it’s about commiting to a patient’s heart health, cognitive health, mental health, and overall well-being.
Premier Sleep Associates founders, Steve Carstensen and Carrie Magnuson, have obtained the AADSM and ABDSM credentials.
Contact Premier Sleep Associates in Bellevue, Washington today (425) 698-1732 for your dental sleep medicine needs today!