Airway has been an evolving buzzword in dentistry for some time, and it’s not going anywhere. We already know the oral cavity is the gateway to overall health. We also know that we can survive three weeks without food and three days without water, but we can survive only three minutes without air. We don’t give much thought to our ability to breathe even though it’s essential to our overall well-being. In fact, it’s quite often an overlooked facet of our health.
Did you know that the maxilla is also the floor of the nose? As registered dental hygienists, we have the advantage to properly screen our patients for airway issues two or three times a year, sometimes more. In 2017, the American Dental Association released a policy statement encouraging dental professionals to screen for red flags due to airway obstruction. Let’s walk through an intraoral exam and I’ll show you how it can double as a myofunctional airway screener.
Begin your screening before you lay the patient back in the chair. As you’re chatting and reviewing their medical history, observe them. How are they breathing—through their nose or mouth? Where do you see the primary movement coming from—the diaphragm or the chest? Are their lips closed? We’re looking for dominant nasal breathing patterns with primary movement from the diaphragm and optimal oral rest posture, which includes the lips closed, the entire tongue lightly suctioned in the roof of the mouth, and the posterior teeth 2-3 mm apart.