The sizes of the tongue and tonsils can be the reasons why some people are suffering from sleep problems, a new study found.

Researchers discovered that having oversized tonsils and indentations on the tongue put people at an increased risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The said indentations are teeth markings that signify that the tongue is too big for the mouth.

With this, it may be said that the more appropriate time to assess OSA is during an appointment with the dentist instead of sleeping time at night.

Dentists' Role 

Dentists are then given a special position to assess patients with signs of OSA, which is a sleeping disorder characterized by cessation of breathing while sleeping due to obstructed airway.

Although dentists cannot officially give a diagnosis of OSA to patients, they have the ability to identify whether or not patients have enlarged tonsils or tongue and to subsequently recommend them to a sleep specialist.

"Dentists see into their patient's mouths more than physicians do and the signs are easy to identify," says study author Thikriat Al-Jewair from the University of Buffalo (UB) School of Dental Medicine.

Being a professor at UB, Al-Jewair says it is a must to teach students about this condition as part of their training in school. They need to educate dentists about the important role they play in detecting and managing patients with sleep disorders.

Sleep Apnea

Over 18 million adults in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea, but majority of these cases are not diagnosed. Severe forms of the disorder are associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, memory loss and depression, among others.

Patients who are obese are said to have 10 times more risk of reporting OSA symptoms than non-obese individuals.

Confirming The Relationship Of Tongue And Tonsils With Sleep Problems

The UB study involved 200 dental patients at the University of Dammam's College of Dentistry in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The authors tested the participants using the Berlin Questionnaire, which is an approved assessment tool for screening individuals for OSA.

The researchers also looked into possible risk factors, such as weight, blood pressure reading, neck circumference and sizes of tongue, tonsils and uvula, which is the hanging tissue at the back of the throat.

The findings of the study show that habitual snoring is present in 81.8 percent of males and 18.2 percent of females. Breathing cessations while sleeping with a frequency of more than once per week are present in 9 percent of the participants. Ultimately, the researchers found that 78.5 percent of males and 21.7 percent of females have a high risk of developing OSA.

Patients with the highest risk of OSA were those who have large tonsils, tongue indentations and high scores in a daytime sleepiness assessment tool called Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

In the future, the team is looking at having a wider sample size that includes different age groups and overnight sleep monitorings to establish the severity and prevalence of OSA.

The study was published in the Saudi Medical Journal.

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