You may have noticed something always hanging at the back of your throat. This is called the uvula. The word comes from the latin word “ūvula” which literally means “little grape”. But what exactly is this body part and how does it contribute to our overall health and functions?
What Does the Uvula Do?
The uvula, medically termed as palatine uvula, hangs from the center of the edge of the soft palate. It is made up of muscular fibers and connective tissues. Science has yet to define the exact functions of this body part, but many patients and doctors have associated it with the following:
Secretion and control of saliva. It has been found that people with no uvula find it hard to produce saliva and often suffer from dry mouth.
Speech and articulation. The uvula helps in the proper pronunciation of certain sounds and phonemes, especially when sounds are produced at the back of the mouth like the letters “K” and “G”.
Protection of air passageways. When you eat and swallow, the uvula covers the air passageways so that food and liquids don’t get into the wrong pathway.
Gag reflex. Stimulation of the uvula promotes gagging, which is often seen when you poke the back of your mouth with your finger.
Why is the Uvula Significant in Dentistry?
In dental practice, the uvula is part of the oral and maxillofacial body systems. When you undergo a dental checkup, your uvula is one of the parts of the mouth that will be observed. Our dentists are trained to recognize and diagnose problems in the uvula such as inflammation, enlargement, and malformation. If anomalies are seen in your uvula, we will perform further testing to see what the problem is and how it can be fixed.
Sleep Apnea and the Uvula
Dentists are also involved in sleep apnea, a breathing problem that only happens when a patient is asleep. Enlargement of the uvula is associated with obstructive sleep apnea. Our dentists will be able to assist you in determining your sleep apnea problem and refer you to a sleep specialist for proper diagnosis. If sleep apnea is confirmed due to the abnormality in the uvula, our dentists may recommend various treatment options, the most common of which are:
Mandibular appliances. These come in splint or mouthguard forms. They are made to move the jaw slightly during sleep to allow better air passage and keep the throat in a position that opens up the passageways.
Palatal implants. Small plastic rods are surgically implanted in the soft palate to strengthen the muscle and prevent it from coming in contact with the uvula and other organs at the back of the mouth.
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). This is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of the uvula or a part of it.
Removing the Uvula
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is considered as the last choice for patients who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea due to the enlargement or elongation of the uvula. UPPP has a success rate of around 50% and in some cases, UPPP can worsen sleep apnea because of postoperative scarring.
Our dental team will be able to guide you in deciding what treatment to get for your sleep apnea or snoring problems. Just visit CDIC Dental Clinic for more details about these conditions.