I just returned from an updating course on emerging issues in Dentistry. Interestingly enough, one issue that seems to be gaining increasing attention is that of airway problems for patients. By airway problems, I mean the simple feat of being able to breathe and its impact on the lives of people, is now being seen by many health care professionals as nearing epidemic proportions.

Airways, simply put, are the passageway from your nose and mouth to your lungs. When these passageways are narrowed, either due to increased weight gain, allergies, excessive growth of tissue, insufficient development of the jaws of the face (and by other means), there is a resultant decrease in available oxygen to the lungs, brain and rest of the body.

One of the most common signs of airway obstruction is that of snoring. When people fall asleep, their muscles relax and one of the resultant problems is that the tongue can relax into a more backwards position and help to block of the airway. When this blockage is partial, the movement of air though the narrowed passageway can cause noises such as whistling and other sounds commonly associated with snoring. But when the passageway becomes totally blocked, no oxygen is getting to the lungs and brain and this causes the brain to react and wake up the snoring person. When this occurs, the person wakes up suddenly and takes a gasp of air (sometimes it can be quite terrifying for the patient). This constant sleep/wake cycle then causes sleep disturbances in this person. These sleep disturbances can cause these people to have on going tiredness, often to the point of falling asleep during the day. This can be quite deadly when this person falls asleep at the wheel of a car or truck!!

There are other significant causes of airway problems and one of the most significant is that of narrowed airways in children, caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids, allergies and repeated bouts of the common cold. In children, long term restricted airways can have dramatically damaging effects on their ability to learn and concentrate with possible lifelong learning disabilities.

So as you see, airway problems are quite a concern!

To learn how we dentists help to treat these issues, stay tuned and I will review this in my next blog. Looking forward to seeing you then!