When you think about dentistry, your airway probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But the airway can have a huge impact on dental and overall health. Dr. Greg Reece of Dentistry of the Queen City, a dentist in Charlotte, NC, discusses the airway and its importance in dentistry.
The Airway and Dentistry
One of the things that we evaluate with all of our patients, regardless of their age, is their airways. You may wonder what a dentist is doing looking at an airway, but in reality, the start of our airway is what we deal with daily. The mouth and nose are the avenues for air to enter our bodies. Even though we should all be nasal breathers, it is impossible to only breathe through your nose (try talking for a long time); therefore, we can breathe through our mouth as well.
A lot of evidence correlates some very common dental findings with an altered airway that has resulted in altered breathing. One of the things we see in our patients with altered breathing is that their sleep is often negatively affected (since we breathe while we sleep). This altered breathing is both stressful and detrimental to your body because you often disturb your sleep so that you can compensate and take a more normal breath.
This altered airway oftentimes has to do a great deal with altered growth and development of the jaws. With a lack of development of the upper jaw (the maxilla), the nasal cavity also does not grow to its full potential, making it very hard to breathe through our nose, so we default to breathing through our mouths. Mouth breathing can have a continued negative impact on our growth and development but also our overall health.
Consequences of an Altered Airway
Some things we see in our patients that have these issues are poor sleep, increased size of the tonsils and adenoids, bruxism (grinding of teeth), snoring, GERD, poor diet, increased fatigue, and increased facial pain, as well as many others.
Often, an altered airway can lead to a diagnosis of sleep apnea and/or TMJ disorders. Sleep apnea occurs when the soft muscles in the back of the throat collapse while you’re sleeping, blocking the airway. TMJ can occur as an impact of bruxism and teeth grinding. It changes how your jaw joint functions and may lead to pain, jaw locking, and trouble opening and closing the mouth. We recommend a mouthguard to help keep your jaw in the right alignment while sleeping.
This explanation is just the tip of the iceberg regarding what we look for about your oral health and your airway. If you feel that you or someone you know may have some of these issues, please feel free to call our office or schedule an appointment online.