The airway encompasses the mouth, jaw, nasal passages, tongue and throat. Dentists in collaboration with other health professionals can detect early signs of airway issues.
Breathing is most effective through the nose. Nasal breathing supports proper development of the upper airway and associated structures. If you are known to mouth breathe there could be an obstruction of your upper airway. Some contributing and resulting factors of this include enlarged tonsils and adenoids, teeth grinding (bruxism), Jaw joint pain, erosion of the teeth, malocclusion, periodontal disease. Mouth breathing leads to dry mouth and reduction in saliva that neutralises acid attack on teeth.
Signs of airway issues include dark circles under the eyes (venous pooling), posturing the head forward or tipping the forehead backwards when standing or walking, high narrow palate, snoring, dry lips, open mouth while sleeping, chronic sinus and ear infections, colds and chronic bad breath, allergies, swollen and red gums that bleed easy.
Further to dental issues, upper airway obstructions can lead to sleep disturbed breathing which causes headaches, snoring, difficulty sleeping, neck, jaw, or ear pain.
Chronic diseases such as obesity, ADHD, asthma, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and sleep apnoea develop from sleep disturbed breathing and thus affect the quality of life.
If you sleep on your back, relaxed tongue muscles can obstruct the airway. Your brains natural response is to signal the jaw to slide forward to improve the airflow, however this sliding motion can be detrimental to your teeth. Airway related bruxism can lead to cracks in teeth, mobility of teeth, bone loss, pain and early tooth loss.
Airway issues in children in particular have been known to lead to poor sleep, learning disabilities, ADHD, anxiety, depression and aggressive behaviour.
Other factors that lead to sleep apnoea include obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption.
Your dentist will use a team approach to assess for a range of conditions and may refer you to an ear nose and throat specialist for an upper air way assessment. Allergy testing is sometimes required as well and a jaw positioning night splint or night guard may be another option to name a few.