101 Communications – How to Communicate to Parents about Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB)!

Pediatrician, mother and child atdoctor officeBy Amy Morgan

If you are a family practice, orthodontic practice or pediatric practice, one of the major communication hurdles that has to be crossed is influencing parents to support ideal treatment choices for their children. When you have a vision or brand promise that includes dental solutions that promote overall health and well-being, then that conversation can and should include education regarding sleep disorders in both young and old!
Sleep Disordered Breathing absolutely has an impact on the growth and development of the children you serve as patients in your practice! Parents will want to know and appreciate the fact that you and your team are unique, as you take the time to educate them on all aspects of their children’s oral and overall health. From a marketing standpoint (the art of being well known and well thought of), just asking the questions about a child’s sleep patterns will separate your practice from the standard perception of the “average” dental experience. In this competitive environment, what you offer and how you communicate those offerings is the make-or-break point for continued success. So the question is not whether you should be communicating about sleep solutions to parents, it’s how and when.

1. It starts with your online presence! Whether we are talking about your website, social media, or e-newsletters, your online presence allows you to educate and motivate new and existing patients 24/7, 365 days a year! Having a space devoted to sleep solutions for children and adults on your website is essential. Training your entire team to value and use that information daily is where the “rubber hits the road”. To post effective website descriptions, FAQs or blogs, it is important that the team understands the warning signs that would indicate “SDB” and be able to communicate the potential solutions in non-clinical, benefit-oriented terms to the parent! Studies are showing that sleep disorders, related to sleep apnea in children, can contribute to everything from bed-wetting and sleep-walking, to retarded growth as well as an overall failure to thrive. Parents want to know these important facts and, more importantly, do something to protect their child from exhibiting any of these results!

just-asking-questions2. The wonderful world of open ended questions and active listening! At Pride Institute, we teach that from the initial telephone screening, to the preclinical interview and through the treatment conference, it is essential to capitalize on every opportunity to educate and influence parents to make the right decisions for their children. This requires excellent verbal skills used at every point of contact. Where to begin? Influencing always starts with asking the right kind of questions and listening carefully with curiosity. The right kinds of questions are open-ended, which means they invite more than a one word response from the person being asked. Starting your question with, “what can you tell me…”or “how does this affect your son…” or “why is this a problem” is the perfect way to court an open-ended response! To me, the most elegant, simple question to ask right from the get-go is, “How does your son/daughter sleep?”

3. Ask the right screening questions! Whether a child has any apparent symptoms related to sleep apnea, screening for sleep disorders shows the parent that the practice’s philosophy of clinical care goes well beyond dentistry! This creates additional value, loyalty and commitment to long-term care for the entire family! If you are already screening for OSA in adults by using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, you can start by implementing the BEARS Sleep Screening Algorithm*. The “BEARS” instrument was developed as a comprehensive, age-appropriate screening vehicle for toddlers (2-5 years old), school aged children (6-12 years old) and adolescents (13-18 years old). “BEARS” is an acronym with targeted questions directed to both the parent and child, regarding bedtime problems, sleepiness and snoring. This can be asked during a pre-clinical interview when the child and parent are present.


Additional questions can be used to highlight any causes for further exploration by the doctor and team such as:

  • How much does your child weigh?
  • Does your child show any other signs of disturbed sleep?

As a parent myself, I always valued the experts who took the extra time to provide my children with the best advice and counsel. If you are interested in creating raving fans who become ambassadors to your unique philosophy and results, applying these skills will make a difference! Inspire your team, upgrade your systems and enjoy the ride!

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