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Healthy Airway

5.9.17 in General

Healthy Mouth Sounds- Healthy Airway Architecture


The airway. Our life- source. Let’s talk mechanics, but let’s over-simplify!


The oxygen we need to nourish our living tissues exist in our atmosphere.  We get it to the tissue via a complex exchange that happens in our lungs, but today I want to focus on the “air tube” through which the oxygen travels to reach the lungs. I find in conceiving of and solving airway problems, the more simple I keep the concepts in my mind, the quicker I recognize solutions.


So, this is a tube, which allows oxygen to travel to the lungs. The more constricted and the smaller that tube is the more likely is an airway problem. Well, let’s talk about the size and shape of that tube. First allow me to point out some good advice about function. “The nose is for breathing, and the mouth is for eating and speaking.” That being said, it is true that we can breathe through our mouths and noses. But the floor of this “air tube” is the maxilla. That also happens to be the roof of the mouth. So the wider and deeper the roof of the mouth is, the bigger that air tube can be. I like to think of the first part of our airway as the maxilla and nasal passages before we get to the back of the throat. Here are some of the things we notice in good dental examinations.


A healthy normal palate is wide. Because we know that “form follows function,” a normal palate is wide because the tongue lives there. If our tongues are forced downward and forward, they do not develop the palate, which remember is the floor of our “air tube.”


In some people we see evidence of this vertical architecture in a longer face, forward head posture, receding chins, high, narrow palates, crowded teeth, and scalloped edges on the tongue. None of these architectural elements create a healthy airway. If we combine some of these anomalies with things like tongue tie, deviation of the nasal septum, hypertrophic adenoid and tonsillar tissues, and complicate it further with allergies and inflamed mucosal tissues, we have the perfect storm for airway compromise.


Now here is a catch. During the day, while awake, we can control the patency of our airway. But, when that person with compromised architecture falls asleep and all muscles relax and collapse on each other- now there is an oxygen problem.


It has become the practice at Family Dental Care to always ask one basic question when we see anything but health. That question is, “could this be an airway problem?” If it is not, we have wasted nothing by asking that question. It is when we overlook that possibility, that we under serve our patients.


Next blog, we are going to develop this list of signs of airway issues. So stay tuned in and keep smiling. Dr. W.

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Gary Williams, DMD

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