Professional Education

Become a Progressive Airway Health Provider

Why exactly would the average medical/dental provider decide to become progressive and delve into the world of airway disorders and sleep-disordered breathing?

My Experience Should Form Your Why

I remember sitting in the narrow room with the walls that were not bright enough to be yellow and too dark for white. While poking around in my daughter’s mouth a quiet murmur of “tongue tie” escaped the dentist’s lips. She made no eye contact and fiddled with the explorer. I never considered tongue tie a possibility and despite my dental hygiene education and experience had no idea what it meant for her.

Distracted, I asked, “does she have any cavities?” (I’ll share with you in another blog how much I despise this question)

“No,” she started. What came beyond that casual “no” wrapped me up tightly and launched me into a world I never knew existed. She explained the connections and asked me several questions about topics that ranged from her nursing as a baby to her current eating and sleeping habits.

She was an incredibly slow eater, very picky, frequently congested, almost always had her mouth open and her teeth were crowded (her maxillary canines blocked out entirely before she even reached age 7).

There were no distinct sleep issues, but I did have another older daughter who for 9 years wet the bed every night without fail, had episodes of night terrors and sleepwalking, and would not stop sucking her thumb. Did she have a tongue tie as well? And what about my son with ADHD who also mouthbreathes? Or my youngest daughter who did not nurse much past the first 3 months and was attached to her pacifier?

Just as I began a high-speed race in my mind, she asked if she could take some x-rays of her. A cephalometric which would give us a basic view of her airway and display any obstructions such as the tonsils or adenoids. If it looked obstructed, then a CBCT (dental cone beam computed tomography) would give us a much more detailed look. We needed both films and sure as the sun would rise the next morning, she had a narrow airway with enlarged adenoids and tonsils.

I am an emotional person, and despite my brain informing my heart that I am a good mother, my eyes sided with my heart and released a wave of liquid emotion. Of course, not until I reached my car. In the sacred space of that SUV came every emotion that comes with learning that your 7-year-old has struggled to breathe her entire life. Every sensitivity that is amplified in her, the anxiety, the inability to take bitewing radiographs, the slow painful meals, the picky eating, the snoring, the room it felt like we owned at the pediatrician’s office…it all came down to this.

How did every single person I had my daughter around not realize this? The pediatrician that made her say “AH,” and looked right past it. The dentists I worked for in private practice, worked with in corporate dentistry and under in dental school. Not one had ever mentioned that there is something I could and should be looking into to address these issues. Not for her, or for any of my other children.

Betrayal. That’s the only word to describe that feeling. The resentment only grew as I had my other children checked and tested. And as I began educating myself to become a future member of the airway interdisciplinary team, I couldn’t help by wonder how the average medical/dental provider would not decide to become progressive and delve into the world of airway disorders and sleep-disordered breathing?

The average provider would not. However, an exceptional provider would grasp at any opportunity to advance their education and improve their level of patient service. I am not only eternally grateful to the dentist who had uncovered my children’s true selves, I only recommend and continue to see providers who work with the entire patient and not just the part of the patient that relates to their limited interest.

How can you establish profound patient care?

If you are an intrigued provider whose limitless curiosity results in profound patient treatment and care then you should pursue the following steps to begin your journey into becoming a progressive airway disorder provider:

  • Immerse yourself in the wealth of information available. My personal suggested book reading list can be found on Pinterest. Each book will provide you with a solid background of the connections and implications of airway dysfunction on sleep and health. Utilize journal search engines to read peer-reviewed articles and research on topics with keywords such as myofunctional therapy, tongue thrust, mouthbreathing, nitric oxide, ferritin, or sleep apnea in autism and ADHD.
  • Get yourself invested in available continuing education. Dental Sleep Toolbox offers an excellent comprehensive course to learn more about sleep dentistry, myofunctional therapy, team building and more. Airway Focused Dentistry is a great resource with a respected team at the helm. Do a mini-residency in an appliance such as Myobrace, A.L.F. or Healthy Start (Orthotain). Attend a tethered oral tissue seminar (TOTs) or join the American Laser Study Club. The latter options being incredibly important if you are a member of the medical community.
  • Start screening patients. For a simple guide to help you discern which patients you are looking to refer out or treat in the future check out our free guide.
  • Make connections. Talk to other providers that you already have connections with. Are they currently a progressive airway health provider? What information can you learn from them and/or share with them? If you have social media accounts start to follow the leaders in airway and sleep disorders. They post informative articles and research as well as educational bits for the general public.

Our website also offers articles and research links that can contribute to your journey. As a member of the interdisciplinary team, I look forward to you upgrading your education and practice by coming into the airway health world. Personally, I anxiously await the day that every parent is given the opportunity to intervene and offer their child positive growth and health. Alternatively, I hope you never fall on the negative end of that feeling of betrayal.

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