Tongue Scalloping: A Simple Marker for Sleep Apnea?
January 21, 2010
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.