Mouth Anatomy 101
The mouth is primarily an orifice for digestion but also enables the important function of speech. As the mouth cavity joins the nasal cavity at the rear, the mouth also serves as a vital, primary air passage for breathing.
Probably two important physical features of the mouth to understand first, certainly in terms of snoring and sleep apnea, are the hard palate and the soft palate. The hard palate is the first two-thirds of so of the upper mouth, extending backwards toward the throat and nasal passage from the lips and front teeth. At the rear of this bony structure resides the soft palate, leading to the uvula, which protrudes downward.
The tongue, of course, often rests up against the hard palate and occupies a central place in the mouth itself. At night, the tongue normally recedes downward and allows air to flow through the mouth and airway at the rear. But if one’s tongue is too large,it can block the flow of air through the mouth, which in turn can lead to snoring and worse to sleep apnea. The latter results in interrupted breathing that can destroy a good night’s sleep — and ultimately even one’s health.
It’s the soft palate, however, that often is the culprit in sleep apnea cases. Normally, the tissues in the upper throat, including the soft palate, collapse and recede on themselves, allowing for free airflow. With sleep apnea, however, the tissues — often because they are too soft or fattened — fall or relax outward during sleep, temporarily blocking passage of air. This results in interrupted breathing and disturbed sleep patterns.
The uvula, which protrudes downward at the end of the soft palate, also gets involved in the relaxation of the soft palate by vibrating, blocking airflow and producing snoring sounds.
Being overweight is often the culprit that causes the soft palate to enlarge and/or soften, leading it to come together and block one’s airflow.
(The Pillar Procedure, offered by most sleep professionals including the Snoring Center, deals with a relaxing soft palate by inserting implants that harden the tissue to prevent air blockage through relaxing and ballooning of the tissue.)
The tonsils at the back of the mouth, if infected or hardened, can also cause blockage of air, but treatments with radio frequency can remove this obstacle, though sometimes not permanently.
In short, the mouth — usually the tonsils or soft palate/uvula — is responsible for many cases of sleep apnea.
Since sleep apnea is known to lead to hypertension, arrhythmia, heart problems and even
stroke, it is important to be evaluated by a sleep professional and get the problem under control if you experience any of the symptoms of the condition, including daytime tiredness and excessive snoring and/or breathing cessations at night.