Recent research has linked snoring to an enlarged tongue, a condition that may also be a factor in the development of sleep apnea.
Although sleep apnea can contribute to severe health problems including heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure, the condition—and its associated snoring—can often be treated by a knowledgeable dentist who offers custom-made oral appliances. These devices, which are similar to sports mouthguards, fit comfortably over your teeth as you sleep and are designed to maintain an open airway.
Tongue Size and Sleep Apnea
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the research in question focused on the tongue sizes of obese adults with and without obstructive sleep apnea (OSA); obesity is one of the primary risk factors of sleep apnea, and OSA is the most common and dangerous form of sleep apnea.
The study found that those with OSA had significantly larger tongues, which may provide an important link between obesity, tongue size and sleep apnea. The results of the study, which were published in the Oct. 1 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Sleep, indicated that participants with sleep apnea not only had comparably larger tongues, but tongues with greater volume and fat percentages.
Does My Tongue Look Fat to You?
The research team believes that in addition to the overall tongue size, the increased fat in the tongue may contribute to sleep apnea by impairing the function of the muscles that attach the tongue to bone.
These are among the muscles in the rear of the throat that can become over-relaxed during sleep, leading to the collapse of the tongue and tissue in the throat, which obstructs the airway. The authors of the study said they believe that future research into the links between obesity and sleep apnea should include a focus on overall weight loss as well as the removal of tongue fat, either through upper-airway exercise or surgical treatment.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea Treatment
It should be said that the need for surgical sleep apnea treatment is incredibly rare. In many cases, sleep apnea can be treated comfortably and effectively with a dental device.
It is also important to note that snoring, though a common sign of sleep apnea, is not always related to sleep apnea. Custom dental appliances may also be used by those who suffer from occasional or chronic snoring that is not associated with sleep apnea. Due to the risks of sleep apnea, however, it’s advisable to undergo an evaluation if regular snoring is present.
If you live in the Austin, Texas, area and you or a loved one is losing sleep to persistent snoring, please contact Dr. Dan Matthews online or call our dental office at 512-452-2273 to schedule your sleep apnea consultation.