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What Are The Dental Clues That An Adult Has OSA?

Do you wake up tired even after a full night’s sleep? Your teeth may hold the answer. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common but often unnoticed condition in which breathing stops and starts during sleep. But what are the dental clues that an adult has OSA?

Dental clues that an adult has OSA include worn teeth from grinding, increased tooth decay, a receding gum line, and a large tongue or tonsils that block the airway. Dentists may also notice a small jaw or changes in the shape of the palate. These signs can suggest obstructive sleep apnea.

Let’s explore how certain dental clues suggest an adult may have OSA and what you can do about it. This could be the key to a better night’s sleep and a healthier life.

Physical Examination

When a doctor checks for signs of OSA in adults, they often start with a physical examination of the mouth and throat. This helps them see any unusual features that may link to sleep issues. Let’s explore some key signs:

Mouth Breathing

People who breathe through their mouths when they sleep may have OSA. Mouth breathing happens when someone can’t move enough air through their nose. It can make the throat dry and sore. It could be a clue if you notice you’re breathing through your mouth often, especially at night.

Enlarged Uvula

The uvula is the small piece of flesh that hangs at the back of the throat. When it’s larger than normal, it can block airflow during sleep. This makes it hard to breathe properly, which is a common problem in people with OSA. Doctors look at the uvula’s size to find sleep apnea-related issues.

Tonsil Size

Large tonsils can also block the airway and make breathing difficult at night. When doctors examine someone for OSA, they check the size of the tonsils. When the tonsils are big, they can be part of why a person has breathing problems while sleeping.

Crowded Teeth

Crowded teeth are another dental clue of OSA. When teeth don’t have enough room in the mouth, it can change how the jaw and airway are shaped.

This can narrow the airway and lead to breathing troubles during sleep. A dentist can tell if teeth are too crowded and can suggest this as a possible sign of OSA.

High Arched Palate

A high-arched palate is the roof of your mouth being higher and narrower than usual.

This shape can also make the airway smaller and contribute to breathing issues during sleep. During an examination, doctors look at the arch of the palate to see if it could be a reason for sleep apnea.

Dental Impressions

Let’s explore key signs, such as teeth grinding, tooth wear, TMJ disorders, dental erosion, and a scalloped tongue.

Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Teeth grinding, or bruxism is a common sign that may indicate OSA. Many people grind their teeth at night without knowing it, and this habit can lead to other dental problems.

When your dentist notices that your teeth look flat or chipped, it means you are grinding them. This happens because people with OSA try to open their airways by moving their jaw forward, resulting in grinding.

Tooth Wear Patterns

Tooth wear patterns also offer clues about OSA. Uneven wear or sharp edges on teeth can suggest abnormal grinding and jaw movement during sleep. Your dentist can tell a lot about your sleep habits by examining how your teeth wear down.

TMJ Disorders

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which connects the jaw to the skull. Disorders in this joint may be linked to OSA. Symptoms include jaw pain, clicking sounds when you move your mouth, or a jaw that locks.

People with OSA often have TMJ disorders due to the strain of frequent jaw clenching and teeth grinding.

Dental Erosion

Dental erosion involves the loss of tooth enamel caused by acid attacking the surface of your teeth.

While dental erosion can come from many sources like diet or stomach acid, it is also more common in people with OSA. Breathing through the mouth and acid reflux, which often accompanies OSA, can lead to significant enamel erosion.

Scalloped Tongue

A scalloped tongue is another dental clue to OSA. This condition features indentations or waves on the sides of the tongue.

It occurs when the tongue presses against the teeth while trying to open the airway during sleep. A scalloped tongue indicates a possible OSA and that the airway is not open enough during sleep.

X-Ray Findings

When doctors think someone has OSA, they often look at dental X-rays for clues. These X-rays can show important signs that point to this sleep problem. Here are some key things they look for:

Deviated Septum

The septum is the wall inside your nose that divides it into two sides. Sometimes, this wall isn’t straight. When it leans to one side, we call it a deviated septum.

This can make it hard for air to flow through your nose properly. A deviated septum not only makes breathing difficult at night but can also suggest someone have OSA.

Narrow Airway

X-rays can show if a person’s throat is narrower than usual. A narrow throat means that air doesn’t move smoothly when a person breathes. During sleep, this can cause the soft tissues in the throat to block the airway, leading to OSA.


Retrognathia occurs when the lower jaw is set back further than normal relative to the upper jaw. This position can push the tongue backward, making it more likely to block the airway during sleep. An X-ray can help doctors determine whether a jaw’s position can be causing breathing issues.

Adenoid Size

Adenoids are small lumps of tissue at the back of the nose, above the throat. Large adenoids can block the airways, especially in kids, but they can also affect adults.

An X-ray can show if the adenoids are bigger than they should be, which could be a clue to OSA.

Airway Obstruction

Sometimes, an X-ray reveals that something is blocking the airway. This could be due to big tonsils, extra tissue in the throat, or other problems. Seeing any blockage on an X-ray is a strong sign that the person may have OSA.

Oral Appliance Therapy

Oral appliance therapy uses special mouth devices at night. They help keep the airway open, which is crucial for uninterrupted breathing. This treatment is straightforward and involves no surgery. It is favored for its simplicity and effectiveness.

Non-Invasive Treatment

Unlike surgical options for treating OSA, Oral Appliance Therapy is non-invasive, meaning it does not involve any surgical procedures. This aspect makes it an attractive choice for patients looking for a simpler and safer solution to their sleep apnea problems.

Custom-Fitted Devices

These devices are tailored to each individual for maximum effectiveness and comfort. Dentists create custom-fitted devices by taking precise molds of a patient’s teeth. This customization improves the treatment and ensures the device is comfortable to wear all night, enhancing compliance and treatment success.

Improved Sleep Quality

Patients who use these devices often report a significant improvement in sleep quality. Preventing breathing interruptions allows for deeper, more restful sleep. This reduces daytime sleepiness and boosts energy levels. Better sleep contributes to better health outcomes and a higher quality of life.

Sustainable Way To Manage OSA

Oral appliances provide a sustainable way to manage OSA. Patients favor them because they are easy and effective. The patients who like them dislike surgery and CPAP machines.

Recently, Vivos Therapeutics’ C.A.R.E. devices received the first ever FDA 510(k) clearance for oral device treatment of severe OSA in adults. This approval is a big step. It shows the value and power of oral appliance therapy, which treats severe cases of OSA.

The Vivos C.A.R.E. appliances are also intended to treat moderate obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in adults 18 years of age and older, along with positive airway pressure (PAP) devices and/or myofunctional therapy, as needed.

Conclusion: What Are The Dental Clues That An Adult Has OSA

Dentists play a key role in spotting signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in adults. Common dental clues include worn teeth, a small jaw, and redness in the throat.

Dentists can also recommend non-surgical treatments like Oral Appliance Therapy. This therapy uses special devices. They keep the airway open during sleep. This leads to better rest and health. Once you have OSA, visiting your dentist could be a great first step toward being healthier as well as breathing and sleeping better.

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