Is Your Tongue Too Big for Your Mouth?


Sounds bizarre, but a new University at Buffalo study suggests—aside from eating disruptive foods before you sleep, getting too hot at night, and a bevy of other sleep cycle destructors—your tongue and tonsils might be the reason for your shoddy sleep.

You may have never noticed, but the next time you wake up in the morning, take a look at your tongue. If you see indentations or imprints of your teeth along the sides of your tongue, it means you have an oversized tongue and/or tonsils. 

It may seem inconsequential, but this oral quirk can put you at risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where your breathing intermittently stops and starts overnight. As you can imagine, this disrupts your sleep cycle but severe cases are also linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, memory loss, and more.  

The problems don’t stop there. While 18 million Americans are affected by the condition, the National Sleep Foundation says most cases are undiagnosed because people don’t realize they have it. Understandably so—they’re asleep. 

In the study, published last month in the Saudi Medical Journal, researchers analyzed 200 men and women at dental clinics. Participants were tested for OSA using the Berlin Questionnaire (a validated screening assessment), and then screened for potential risk factors like weight (OSA is more prevalent in obese men and women), neck circumference, blood pressure, and size of their tongue, tonsils, and uvula.

In all, 23 percent of the participants were at risk for OSA, and nearly 80 percent were male. Among these individuals, the biggest contributing factors were obesity, large tonsils, and tongue indentations. 

Next time you’re at the dentist, ask him or her to check out your tongue and tonsils.

“Dentists see into their patient’s mouths more than physicians do and the signs are easy to identify,” said study author Thikriat Al-Jewair.

Even though dentists can’t diagnose OSA, they can spot enlarged tissue and recommend you to a sleep medicine specialist, Al-Jewair added.

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