During Professional School, we, as dentists, benefit from studying medicine before we separate off to specialize on the head, neck and oral cavity including teeth.
In our studies we cover:
And, Dental Specific courses to an a few. In our early years we sit in class with medical students.
Therefore, we recognize that our dental exam includes looking past the lips and teeth to the tissues.
We do an oral cancer screening at each exam appointment and check the tonsils and intraoral airway appearance. We check neck and facial muscles.
Often, we see evidence of suspicion of clenching or grinding of teeth which we call bruxism.
This may appear as teeth with cracks, wear, several existing crowns, heavy bone growth on the jaws, enlarged tight muscles or complaints of facial muscle soreness or headaches.
Patients at times know they clench or grind and other time the do not know. Similarly, a patient may or may not be aware of snoring at night.
In addition to the trauma on the teeth from what we in dentistry call nocturnal bruxism or clenching and grinding at night, this habit may be an indication of a medical problem called OSA or obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can only be diagnosed by a physician. However, today, the test can be ordered by the physician and done in the comfort of your own home.
The test evaluated how well your brain and body are getting oxygen while you sleep.
You may have heard that our body recovers through our nightly sleep, but that only happens if our brain gets enough oxygen and it does not with sleep apnea.
Therefore, with apnea, you become at increased risk to heart attack, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, motor vehicle accident and death.
So, the next time we do our exam and ask you to stick out your tongue then ask you if you have been told you snore at night, don’t think it odd.
Realize we are evaluating characteristics that may indicate sleep apnea. And, if we suspect it, we will likely suggest you see your physician or give you a referral to a sleep physician.
This is one time when sticking your tongue out could save your life! 😉