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Sleep Apnea and Tongue Scalloping: A Simple Screening Test?

Posted Nov 08 2009 10:01pm 2 Comments

One of the most common exam findings that I see in people with sleep apnea is what’s called tongue scalloping. This is where you see ridges, or a scalloping pattern along with sides of the tongue, created by the tongue pressing against the side teeth. One study showed that having tongue scalloping was 70% predictive of the presence of obstructive sleep apnea. 


Why does tongue scalloping occur? Multiple obstructions cause repeated vacuum pressures in the throat which suctions up your normal stomach juices, which includes acid, bile, enzymes and bacteria. These materials cause inflammation and swelling of the mucous membranes, narrowing the throat even further, causing even more obstruction. The tongue also swells slightly and because sleep apnea patients have small jaws by definition, the teeth press into the sides of the tongue, leaving indentation marks.


If you combine this finding with a small mouth and dental crowding, along with a tongue that sits very high (which prevents you from seeing the back of the throat), you’ll have a very high likelihood of having sleep apnea.


Take a look in the mirror right now. Do you have tongue scalloping? Please post your answers in the comment box below.

Comments (2)
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My tongue has been sore on the left side of my mouth for 2 years now. I have had an ultra sound done on my tongue to see if it was cancer. It came back normal. It never goes away. It is always sore, some days are worse then others. I have quit each one of my medications for a month to see if it would get better but no change. I have had dental work done to see if that would help but still no change. I was tested for thrush and it came back normal. What else can I do to make this better and go away. Please help.
I have a scalloped tongue...and it is starting to really bother me...are there any 'natural' remedies to help this problem?
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