If you are at risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), your doctor is usually the first person to tell you. However, what if this information came from an unlikely source? Like your dentist. A new study shows that the size of your tongue and tonsils could be affecting how much you sleep.

The Research into Oversized Tongue and Tonsils

OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea. The disorder usually causes difficulty breathing, excessive snoring, and unexplained daytime sleepiness. Most people are not even aware that they are suffering from the condition. As with many OSA cases, a complete or partial obstruction of the upper airways causes the disorder.

Thikriat Al-Jewari, an orthodontic researcher at the University at Buffalo, New York, led a new study that suggests your dentist might have an opportunity to identify signs of OSA. The study finds that abnormally large tongue indentations and tonsils are frequent indicators of the condition.

Researchers analyzed and tested over 200 patients at the dental clinics at the University of Dammam’s College of Dentistry in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for OSA. Testing for common signs of OSA, and using the Berlin Questionnaire—one of the most validated tests for OSA—they discovered 23 percent of their patients were at risk for OSA. Of those at risk, the most common symptoms were large tongue and tonsils.

Many people who suffer from the condition go undiagnosed and untreated. Unfortunately, patients who remain untreated can endure a worse fate. OSA has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and more. Al-Jewari’s findings are a crucial step in getting people with OSA the help they need.

“Dentists see into their patient’s mouths more than physicians do and the signs are easy to identify,” says Al-Jewair. He goes on to suggest that if dentists are properly trained to identify signs of an oversized tongue and tonsils, they can point patients in the right direction. Dentists are by no means qualified to give a diagnosis on the matter. However, having these professional look out for the signs of the disorder can significantly help solve the problem of patients who go undiagnosed and continue to live with OSA.