Do you see the large bony wing on the lower jaw? That is called an exostosis or a torus. It is bone that has grown on the mandible in response to biting pressures on the adjacent teeth that is beyond their physiological capability to withstand. The body recognizes this and responds by causing more bone to grow to help the teeth withstand the extra pressure. The next question is: what is causing this extra pressure? Sometimes it can be a bad bite (see TMJ disorder) but we also recognize it is also a natural response to Sleep Apnea. When we sleep, our throat muscles relax, just like our arms and legs. These relaxed muscles let extra throat (pharyngeal) tissue sag and close the airway. When this happens, we sometimes respond by clenching. When you clench, not just the muscles in your jaw respond, but also your tongue and your throat muscles. When these tissues tighten, they pull that sagging tissue back up and open the airway.
As a dentist, I routinely look at the tongue for scalloping (signs of clenching) and for tori in the maxilla and mandible. When I see these signs, I begin to get suspicious that my patient has airway problems. If you know you clench at night, have headaches in the morning, a sore jaw and teeth; then you may have sleep apnea. Look for a dentist who is trained in Sleep Medicine Dentistry or talk to your family physician. Those tori will continue to grow until the clenching is stopped. Contact my office to learn more.
Dr. Don Lowrance
Corpus Christi, Texas