Dr. Nammy Patel, the founder of Green Dentistry in San Francisco, talks with John Maher about airway size and its connection to oral and physical health. She covers how increasing airway size can improve your health by increasing the amount of oxygen you take into your body. 

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Dr. Nammy Patel, founder of Green Dentistry in San Francisco, California. Helping patients recognize the vital connection between dental health, and whole body health. And author of the best-selling book, Age with Style: Guide to a Youthful Smile and Healthy Living. Today, our topic is increasing airway size. Welcome, Dr. Nammy.

Dr. Nammy Patel: Hi John, thank you for having me.

What Is Airway Size?

John: Sure. So, let’s start with the basics, Dr. Nammy what do you mean by airway size?

Dr. Nammy: Airway size means that from when the air enters your nose to the area where it gets to the bottom of the lungs. So, we look at airway size through a CT scan and see how well you’re breathing, and how much space do you have for air to flow. Because when we sleep at night, our tongue falls back and sometimes constricts our airway. So, we’re not able to get as much air in as we actually need, which causes us problems in the long-term.

How Does Airway Size Relate to Sleep Apnea?

John: Okay. And how is your airway size related to issues like sleep apnea, like you just mentioned?

Dr. Nammy: Sleep apnea is when you’re not getting enough oxygen in your body. It’s a ratio, and what happens during sleep apnea is that your body stops breathing at a certain point in time. And when it stops breathing, you don’t have any air flow, so you don’t have oxygen going into the body. So, what your body does… The reaction is like, “Oh my gosh, I have too much build up carbon dioxide.” So, it rings a bell and you wake up gasping for air because your body can only live eight minutes without oxygen. And these bells keep going off, and it’s mainly because you’re not getting enough air. And it could be because of an obstruction, which is your tongue falling back, or it could be a central nervous system thing. So, if it’s a central nervous system problem, then there’s a pill that patients end up having to take. And then if it’s an obstruction, we have to make more space for that tongue so it doesn’t fall back when you sleep.

How Can You Naturally Increase Airway Size?

John: What are some of the ways that we can help to increase our airway size in a natural way?

Dr. Nammy: The things that you can do to increase your airway size, one that I’m really, really, really happy about is to actually increase your bone. Usually what happens is the tongue is usually too large for the jaw so it’s really squished inside the mouth. So, the analogy I like to use is a six-foot tiger, which is your tongue, trapped in a three-foot cage, which is your mouth. So, we actually have to grow your mouth and make space for that tongue to fit. And I like that because then you’re not dependent on a device that you have to wear for a lifetime. You don’t have to move your jaw forward, or wear a CPAP, or anything like that. We actually increase space for your tongue so that way you can get good breathing on your own and every night. And that’s a best way to prevent and also increase the airway size.

The other ways to do it would be to do a mandibular advancement where you just move the jaw forward. That tends to be painful, and it tends to cause patients problems in the long-term so that’s a main reason I don’t really like those techniques.

Does Airway Size Cause Sinus or Nasal Cavity Issues?

John: Okay. Can you have issues with your airway size related to your sinuses and nasal cavity as well?

Dr. Nammy: Absolutely. The majority of the time we find that patients have issues with their sinuses is because their tongues are not developed properly, because the tongue is important in two ways, not only does it control the throat and the air going down the throat, it actually rests at the base of the pallet so your tongue is the scalloping for your palette and for your sinuses, and if the tongue is not developed properly and it’s not supporting the sinus, we find that patients end up having constricted sinuses and they’re not draining properly, and they’re having breathing issues because they’re congested all the time, and leading to polyps, leading to gut issues, leading to Alzheimer’s, leading to a lot of other concerns. I mean in children is bedwetting, or restless leg syndrome, just a lot of different things, headaches, vertigo, all of those things are related.

Are There Risks to Increasing Airway Size?

John: Are there any drawbacks or risks associated with the techniques that you mentioned to help increase your airway size?

Dr. Nammy: With airway, if you’re getting more air, there’s never a problem. We can take all the air we can get. So, we just want good quality, good air. So, no, it’s like sunlight, it’s good for us.

John: Alright.

Dr. Nammy: And good for the plants too, right?

Contact Dr. Nammy Patel to Talk About Your Oral Health Today

John: Absolutely. All right. Well, that’s really great information, Dr. Nammy. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Dr. Nammy: My pleasure.

John: And for more information about Green Dentistry, visit the website at sfgreendentist.com, or call (415) 433-0119.