About Dr. Kent Smith
Kent Smith, DDS, graduated from Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, Texas, in 1985. A decade after successfully establishing his dental practice, he decided to help treat people with sleep apnea using an oral device that is usually administered by a specialized dentist. As someone who was always fascinated about what happens at night and during sleep, Dr. Smith found his true calling in helping people with their sleep problems.
Dr. Kent Smith is now the President of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy for five years running, a diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine and is writing his second book. He has also been speaking internationally for more than fifteen years and teaches advanced clinical classes through his company 21st Century Sleep Seminars. Dr. Smith is a well-known sleep expert, and many people flock to see him at Sleep Dallas, where he treats patients with sleep apnea using an oral appliance.
From Dentist to Sleep Specialist
Many of you may be wondering how Dr. Kent Smith, a dentist, became a top sleep specialist. What is the connection between dentistry and sleep problems? Dr. Smith explains that since the air tube from the nose to the lungs passes through the oral cavity, a large tongue and/or excess oral tissues have the potential to obstruct the airway and cause sleep issues. Dentists can utilize their expertise to help identify and address sleep disorders such as sleep apnea that may be severely impacting their patients’ health.
Dr. Smith, whom the medical field regards as one of the leading specialists in the oral appliance treatment for sleep apnea, credits his work to doctors who developed the technology way back in 1902. However, it was only twenty years ago that medical insurance started to pay for this type of treatment after being shown research of its effectiveness. Now, Dr. Smith uses the oral device to reposition the patient’s jaw and tongue while sleeping to treat their sleep apnea.
The Most Common Sleep Disorders in America
While Dr. Smith treats patients from different age brackets, his most common patients with sleep apnea are around fifty years old or older. “As we age and gain weight, we get more sleeping problems,” Dr. Smith explains as the reason behind the older demographic. However, he also has a fair number of younger patients that come to him for help in treating their insomnia, telling him, “Doc, I just can’t turn my brain off.” Below, Dr. Smith breaks down the two most common sleep problems that today’s society faces.
A misconception people have regarding sleep apnea is that only old folks and obese people get it. Dr. Smith says that is not the case – it’s way more common in the general population than one might think. He found in his research that up to 85% of people with sleep apnea go undiagnosed and that 50% of his diagnosed patients are young individuals who are not obese.
There are two kinds of sleep apnea – obstructive sleep apnea, wherein oral cavity tissues are blocking the airway and making breathing difficult, and central sleep apnea, wherein the brain forgets to tell the sufferer to breathe while they are sleeping. Dr. Smith specializes in treating the former through oral appliance therapy.
Besides giving his patients an oral device to address sleep apnea, Dr. Smith also refers his overweight patients to see nutritionists and therapists. He believes that the two go hand in hand in helping his patients achieve a healthier lifestyle, ultimately leading to better sleep
A sleep disorder that has become more common during the pandemic is insomnia. When we are confined at home all day, just sitting or lying around, it becomes harder for us to sleep at night because we haven’t exhausted our body.
The first kind of insomnia that Dr. Smith often sees in his patients is sleep onset insomnia, where the patient simply can’t fall asleep even after lying in bed for an hour. The second kind is sleep maintenance insomnia, where the sufferer keeps waking up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep.
Dr. Smith is now seeing an increase in patients that require treatment for insomnia and has even started administering CBD oil to his patients as research proves that CBD can positively impact the quality of sleep. Despite a certain air of controversy around CBD products, he admitted that many of his patients already take CBD to help them sleep.
Refer Your Patient to a Sleep Doctor
Dr. Smith presses the importance of proper referrals to therapists and other physicians because he believes that there can be better long-term solutions to sleep disorders. He realizes the chances for drug dependency to aid in sleep problems is very high. “It is amazing how many people are taking drugs to help them sleep,” Dr. Smith added, especially when cognitive behavior therapy for sleep disorders such as insomnia (CBTI) is just as readily available. Yes, it may take longer for CBTI to work than a sleeping pill that will put you out in minutes, but the effects are far better for the patient’s health.
Dr. Smith believes that there is a severe lack of proper education on the topic of sleep. It is mainly pharmaceutical companies educating physicians about sleep. Because sleep aid drugs are a multibillion-dollar business, it is not shocking that pharmaceutical companies push for their pills to be a cure for insomnia. Moreover, doctors don’t have enough time in their day to ask each patient about their sleeping habits, so Dr. Smith believes that physicians should refer their patients to the right specialist who knows more about identifying and treating sleep problems.
How COVID-19 Affected a Sleep Doctor’s Business
Dr. Smith saw a significant drop in patients during the height of the pandemic. Among other factors, perhaps the leading contributor was the fact that other physicians were not referring their patients with sleep problems to specialists such as himself. In addition to many people avoiding doctor visits due to fear of catching or spreading the virus, sleep issues paled in comparison to the treatments needed for those suffering from COVID-19.
But even though business significantly decreased, Dr. Smith said he was fortunate enough to continue providing care for his patients through telehealth. And luckily, disposable home sleep tests were invented just six months before the COVID-19 pandemic started, which allowed Dr. Smith to administer the test to patients by mail. The device would wirelessly transmit data through an app, which was then interpreted by a sleep physician to determine whether the patient had sleep apnea. For those patients diagnosed with the condition, all they would have to do is go into the clinic to have their mouth scanned and wait for the custom-fit oral device to be mailed out. That is how he kept business going during the pandemic, but now Dr. Smith is happy to say that Sleep Dallas is picking up again.
What’s in Store for 2021?
With a new year comes new hope and also new challenges. Dr. Smith expressed his concern about the government taking over Medicare as he believes it will change the entire system. Although healthcare for all is essentially a good thing, Dr. Smith can’t help but worry that doctors will no longer be paid on time and will be paid even less than they deserve.
But Dr. Smith doesn’t want to dwell on issues he has no control over; instead, he channels his focus on living up to his promise of helping people with sleep problems. He is looking forward to expanding Sleep Dallas, making it a one-stop-shop for sleep problems and is already implementing new techniques in diagnosing sleep disorders by doing more intensive lab work. This 2021, his goal is to see his patients less tired and less sleepy.
Top Doctor Magazine is a magazine from doctors for doctors and patients. We cover everything from cutting-edge medical techniques and procedures to enterprising doctors, dentists, surgeons, naturopaths, chiropaths, orthodontists, and more who are thought leaders within their own medical practice and changing the way we all experience medicine for the better.
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Brianna Connors & Derek Archer Co-Editors