Of all medical places, the dentist chair may actually be where many people discover they have an airway health issue. And of all medical professionals, dental assistants could be the ones to first spot the problem. While that might sound counterintuitive to some people, it makes common sense to Robynn Rixse.
“In assisting dentists, we spend the largest amount of time with patients, more so than doctors,” says Rixse, president of the American Dental Assistants Association. “(Working in their mouths) we recognize issues that can be brought up to the doctors’ attention.”
This year the association stands out among the strategic partners of Global Airway Health Day, which aims at raising awareness about issues of the upper respiratory tract. “For us it is relevant to support that international day.”
An important tool that dental assistants use regularly is the Mallampati score, a simple test chart that helps predict obstructive sleep apnea by checking the back of the throat, position of the tongue, uvula and other parts of the oral cavity.
With 13,000 members nationwide, the ADAA seems to be posed to play an ever bigger role in detecting airway issues. Currently the association is reviewing a dental questionnaire that requests checking patients for airway health conditions.
“Dental assistants learn and can educate their patients about the importance of airway health,” says Natalie Kaweckyj, former ADAA president. “We are there to help patients with their oral health needs which doesn’t only include their dentition.”
The ADAA partnership with the Foundation for Airway Health will benefit patients, according to Kaweckyj. “The more aware the profession and public become of airway disorders, the more people we can help together,” she says.