Dr. Nammy Patel, the founder of Green Dentistry in San Francisco, sits down the John Maher to talk about the connection between the tongue and sleep apnea. She explains how strengthening the tongue muscle can relieve sleep apnea and improve a patient’s whole health.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and 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: Your Guide to a Youthful Smile & Healthy Living. Today, our topic is the importance of the tongue in sleep apnea. Welcome, Dr. Nammy.

Dr. Nammy Patel: Hi John.

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Teeth and Gums?

John: Dr. Nammy, what is sleep apnea and how does it affect your teeth and your gums?

Dr. Nammy: Sleep apnea is when you’re not getting enough air at night and you’re not able to breathe really well. What that does is it causes you to breathe through your mouth and it makes you clench your teeth. When you’re breathing through your mouth, you end up getting a dry mouth and bacteria overgrow, so you get gum disease. With the teeth, because of the clenching, you tend to chip and break them, so you need crowns and root canals. And that is what sleep apnea really causes.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

John: And what are the causes of sleep apnea? Why is it that some people have it and other people don’t?

Dr. Nammy: The two main causes of sleep apnea are… one is going to be as a central nervous system, genetic issue where they need some sort of a chemical component to help them keep breathing. The second is an obstructive portion, which means that their tongue is not developed enough and keeps falling in the way, and it doesn’t allow them to breathe really well at night.

Can You Fix Tongue Issues That Cause Sleep Apnea?

John: So what can be done if the issue is that my tongue is causing my sleep apnea problems? Can that be fixed?

Dr. Nammy: Yes, we actually can. And that’s the beauty of the work that we do, is that we actually make enough space for the tongue. And we actually do something called myofunctional therapy as well, in order to strengthen that tongue muscle in order to make sure that it does not fall back and that you’re able to get better breathing at night and not need a C-PAP device.

How To Strengthen Your Tongue Muscles

John: What is it that I can do to strengthen my tongue muscle?

Dr. Nammy: There are a couple of things you can do. Myofunctional therapy, which means that you will practice rolling your tongue. You will practice holding their tongue at the roof of the mouth. Those are some key things that are the beginning part of strengthening their tongue. The other things that we actually have is appliances that you’ll wear and it actually gets your tongue muscle to tone. The analogy really is, if you don’t exercise or don’t lift weights, will you ever get muscle tones? And so that’s the whole idea in between training the tongue, is that when it’s toned and it’s not flabby and covering your airway, it’s not going to cause your problem. So we tone the tongue in order to help you get better breathing.

How Can You Change Your Jaw Shape?

John: Okay. And you mentioned that you can also do things to help to change your jaw shape, or increase the size of your jaw so that your tongue fits into it better. What are some of the ways that people can do that?

Dr. Nammy: Absolutely. We have something called a D&A appliance, a daytime/nighttime appliance. And it’s an appliance you wear for about 16 hours a day, and we actually expand your jaw bone in order to help you breathe better by making space for the tongue. We also expand the sinus space to give you better breathing through the nose and really cranial structurally put you in better balance so that way your head and neck are aligned properly so that you can go on with life and your entire central column, which is C1 to C3, it makes a huge difference in patients with headaches, neck pain, their arms going numb, and things like that. We’re able to help avoid all of that.

How Does Treating Sleep Apnea Improve Your Health?

John: What are some of the other great effects on your health that you’ll see when you start to fix these issues with sleep apnea?

Dr. Nammy: The number one is dream. People dream about dreaming. I actually have patients tell me that, “I dream about dreaming,” because a lot of times people are getting sleep but they’re not getting that good REM sleep that we need, which is anti-aging and it’s healing the rest of the body. That’s when your body is fighting cancer, it is fighting disease. Gut issues is a common one. Hormonal imbalance, bed-wetting, ADHD. Those are all things that are caused by poor sleep, or not the dream sleep. And so when we can get you in that dream sleep, it really helps your body relax and breathe better and really heal on its own.

John: And you said that by learning how to not breathe through your mouth or, again, fixing those issues that you have with your tongue and your mouth and your jaw, you’re breathing then through your nose and then your mouth is not going to dry out and be that place where all of that bacteria can grow, right?

Dr. Nammy: Right. And the other thing you can avoid is a lot of crowns, because the number one reason why people get crowns is because they chip their teeth. The number one reason why people lose teeth is because of gum disease. So if we can get rid of the cause of these things then you are in great shape.

Contact Dr.Nammy for Help With Sleep Apnea Today

John: All right, well that’s really great information, Dr. 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.