What Is It?
When we talk about airway, we’re referring to the study of how overall health is affected by the structure of the head, face, and nasal cavity; the function of the tongue and swallow; and postural alignment and behaviors associated with breathing, sleep, and lifestyle choices.
This philosophy and approach to patient care is referred to as Airway-Focused Dentistry.
In airway-focused dentistry, we develop treatment plans by evaluating structure, function, and behavior to reach outcomes that create health and wellness from the root of the problem.
As a species, we are seeing human faces and the maxillary and mandibular arches getting smaller and smaller. This is due to many reasons that are being studied by anthropologists. Some of the reasons we are seeing this are:
- Environmental factors such as exposure to chemicals and hormones
- Lack of hard food diets to encourage chewing that stimulates bone growth
- Lack of breastfeeding, or bottle feeding that does not encourage the proper development of tongue function and swallow
- Tongue ties that restrict the tongue from developing and supporting the bone growth of the maxillary and mandibular arches
All of these things contribute to underdevelopment of facial bone structures.
As we see smaller faces or structural underdevelopment, we see a significant impact on sleep and breathing. Certain factors contribute to how we address these issues:
If the face or oral cavity is too small for the tongue to function or rest properly, the tongue can be pushed back into the airway and contribute to sleep disordered breathing.
If the palate is narrow and highly vaulted, it can create nasal breathing issues, which can affect sleep through sleep fragmentation, which then in turn leads to autonomic nervous system dysfunction.
Tongue ties can not only create tongue function and swallow issues, but can also keep the tongue from sitting up on the palate to support the proper growth of the maxillary and mandibular arches and continue as structural support for the maxillary and mandibular bones to keep their shape.
As we look at behaviors related to breathing, sleep, and lifestyle choices, we can develop strategies for patients to improve their breathing and sleep, and therefore overall health.
Our goal is to help educate patients on this philosophy and approach to care so that they can identify the structural, functional and behavioral concerns they have and seek the appropriate treatments.
The good news is—we can help. We have many techniques available to us to help grow the face, improve function of the tongue and swallow, and encourage good breathing and sleep for overall health improvements.
We look forward to exploring this more with you in a comprehensive Airway Assessment appointment. At Reclaim Dentistry, we are excited about beginning this journey with you toward improved health through structural, functional, and behavioral care.