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.