Screening our patients for airway and breathing issues is becoming a standard in dentistry. One of the things we have started to do every day in our Hygiene rooms, with our patients from three years old to very elderly, is visually looking at the back of their mouth and assign a Mallampati score.
The Mallampati score was developed by anaesthesiologist Seshagiri Mallampati, in 1985, as a non-invasive way to assess the ease of endotracheal intubation. The test is simply a visual assessment of the distance between the base of the tongue and the roof of the mouth.
In our practice, we begin a conversation about airway with patients. The Mallampati diagram (see below) allows both us and our patient to visualize, on a score of 1 to 4, the patient’s anatomical airway. We laminated the Mallampati diagram off of Google Images, and we can give it to the patient to hold while we screen them, or we share it with them after screening to let them see why they received the score they did. We then continue the conversation with them about their airway and why it might be a good idea for them to observe sleep patterns or be referred to a sleep physician for further diagnosis.