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Tongue Scalloping: A Simple Marker for Sleep Apnea?

Posted Jan 21 2010 7:40am 4 Comments

Besides the typical descriptions of physical features for someone at risk for obstructive sleep apnea (such as male, overweight, obnoxious snoring, and a big neck), one physical finding that's rarely mentioned is tongue scalloping (click here for picture). This is when you have impressions or ridges on the sides of your tongue where it sits against your molars. One past study showed that having tongue scalloping can positively predict the presence of apneas or hypopneas and oxygen desaturation in 89% of cases. Overall, having scalloping is about 70 sensitive in picking up obstructive sleep apnea. 

The traditional explanation is that the tongue is too big, but for sleep apnea patients, the jaw is too small for the normal sized tongue. If you add additional inflammation due to chronic reflux from the stomach with each obstruction, the swelling of the tongue will only aggravate the dental impressions on the tongue. Along with the small jaws and scalloping, you'll also have a high-arched hard palate, and the tongue sits very high in the mouth, preventing you from seeing the back of the throat more fully.


This condition is also described in hypothyroid patients, but as I've stated before sleep apnea can cause hypothyroidism.


Take a look at your tongue in the mirror right now. Do you have scalloping? Do any of your family members or friends have it? Please enter your responses below in the comments box.

Comments (4)
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I don't have a scalloping tongue, but I do have a small tongue (I can barely stick it out).  This then causes it to rest on my palatte during sleep and causes chronic snoring.  I just had septoplasty turnbinectomy three weeks ago and it hasn't corrected it.  is this a case of getting the connector under my tongue surgically cut to lengthen it and release the pressure on my palette, or is it a case of getting laser batten surgery?
I have tongue scalloping, and chronic digestive problems.  For the past few years, my tongue has seemed far too big for my mouth.  I have had sleep apnea during this time as well.  BTW, I am not overweight.  You wouldn't think I'd have flaccid oral muscles, either, given that I'm a voice teacher.  So - I'm beginning to think it's the digestive problems, leading to tongue inflammation.  I'm going to try a wedge pillow.  Has anyone here tried that?

I found your website perfect for my needs. It contains wonderful and helpful posts. I have read most of them and learned a lot from them. You are doing some great work. Thank you for making such a nice website.

I have tongue I am very thankful for this site....and article.  I also have noticed that it is pushing my teeth out..causing for projected teeth.  I recently started taking thyroid meds but they don't seem to be helping.  I have a lot of stomach 'burning'.  Lately I have had what seems to be shallow breathing..I am in my late 30's...and not there anything 'natural' for medicine that can help this problem?


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