According to the National Research and the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, there are many visible signs of sleep apnea that a sleep dentist can detect during a routine dental check-up. One of these signs includes a neck size of 15 inches or greater for women and 17 inches or greater for men. It doesn’t matter whether the increase in neck size is due to fat tissue or muscle (as with athletes with muscular necks). The end result is the same; excess pressure on the airway causes it to collapse.
Another clinical sign of OSA is a scalloped tongue. The scalloping results from the tongue pushing against the teeth because there is not enough room in the mouth for it, and the brain is trying to reflexively clear the airway. A high, narrow, vaulted palate also puts one at risk for OSA, as there is no room for the tongue, causing the tongue to fall back and obstruct the airway. Teeth that are worn down usually indicate a sleep grinding disorder which is very often associated with OSA. One theory is that the brain is trying to clear the airway by adjusting the mandible. A large swollen uvula can indicate heavy snoring, in which case the uvula takes a beating from the fast-moving air caused by snoring. The patient ends up with a large, reddened, swollen uvula.
There are many other signs in addition to the ones mentioned above. A well-trained sleep dentist can screen for OSA just by looking into a patient’s mouth, which can save many lives. At the Laguna Hills Center for Sleep Apnea, we routinely screen our patients for OSA by taking a close look at the typical clinical signs of this disorder. If you are at high risk for OSA, call us for a free screening.