The forgotten uvula: Dental hygienists shouldn't overlook an obvious clue to snoring

Getting to the bottom of these issues can be easy with knowledgeable dental hygienists and with the right coach to teach myofunctional techniques that promote a healthy lifetime.

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By Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH, OMT

Bringing families together used to mean something completely different than it does today. Because of snoring, family members are being shunned. Imagine your spouse sleeping in the converted garage, or the expense of adding a room onto the house for one or the other to sleep in because of snoring. Sleep is so important that family members whose sleep is disrupted by a snoring family member can’t help but make the snorer pay.

The truth that the snorer isn’t getting any sleep either is buried. We may see three patients a day who you know snore before they tell you. Their health history is the first tip off. Things like high blood pressure and Type II diabetes are telltale signs. During the oral cancer screening, you may see a large uvula. If you do ask: Do you snore? The answer is almost always some form of yes.

There are many ways that sleep may be disordered. Snoring, sleep apnea, upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) all interfere with sleep of the person sleeping. They contribute to more than sleepiness. Along with the mentioned problems, sleep disordered breathing in children contributes to ADD, ADHD, and asthma symptoms.

Help is not a prescription away. The health-care system built today focuses on treating symptoms and not even bothering looking for the reason for the problem. An entire field of study called myofunctional therapy (OMT) helps people with these sleep disorders. Neck measurements have shown a decrease of an inch or more in people learning the techniques of OMT; the apnea hypopnea index reduces to half for adults and over 60% in children.

You can find a number of OMT techniques on YouTube. But like most things, having a coach or someone to guide you through the experience is infinitely better. None of the studies measured results of people who spontaneously found internet resources and practiced them for any time at all. All were coached by a practicing OMT.

We know that sleep is important. We know that snoring interrupts the sleep of the person snoring and anyone nearby. This lack of sleep can bring up obvious symptoms such as tiredness, as well as not so obvious symptoms such as bedwetting and inflammation that contributes to joint pain. We also know that athletes perform better when they sleep quietly.

Getting to the bottom of these issues can be easy with knowledgeable dental hygienists and with the right coach to teach myofunctional techniques that promote a healthy lifetime.

Shirley Gutkowski is a practicing dental hygienist and orofacial myofunctional therapist practicing at Primal Air, LLC OMT and Breathing Retraining in Sun Prairie, WI. She is published extensively and speaks globally on minimally invasive dental hygiene and prevention of systemic conditions from the dental perspective.


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