How I Use Mallampati Scores for Airway Screening

September 17, 2020 Lee Ann Brady DMD

In 2017 the American Dental Association adopted a policy encouraging dentists to screen patients for sleep-related breathing disorders (SRBD). This includes assessing a patient’s risk for SRBD as part of a comprehensive medical and dental history and referring affected patients to a physician as appropriate. When this happened, I called my friend Dr. Steve Carstensen, who is at the forefront of sleep dentistry and asked him what we should implement in our dental practice. One of the tools he suggested is a quick and easy visual assessment called a Mallampati score.

The Mallampati score is one of four things we now do in my practice as a four-part sleep screening. (In Dr. Kelly Brummet’s recent PankeyGram article, she wrote about what this score determines and how she uses it in her practice, so you will want to go back and read that article as well this one.)

We have laminated copies of the Mallampati visualization chart (see below), which we printed from the Internet. We used these for visual reference in both of my operatories and the hygienist’s operatory. To make a visual assessment of the back of the patient’s mouth, say to the patient, “Open wide.” You don’t depress the tongue. The patient doesn’t say “aah.” The patient just opens wide. Then you look to see which of the four Mallampati images most closely matches what you see and give the patient a 1 through 4 score based on the image.

This is just a simple way to see if we think anatomically the patient can move air past the base of the tongue. My hygienist and I do this in conjunction with the STOP BANG questionnaire, Epworth Sleepiness Scale and asking about nose breathing.

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Lee Ann Brady DMD

Dr. Lee Ann Brady is passionate about dentistry, her family and making a difference. She is a general dentist and owns a practice in Glendale, AZ limited to restorative dentistry. Lee’s passion for dental education began as a CE junkie herself, pursuing lots of advanced continuing education focused on Restorative and Occlusion. In 2005, she became a full time resident faculty member for The Pankey Institute, and was promoted to Clinical Director in 2006. Lee joined Spear Education as Executive VP of Education in the fall of 2008 to teach and coordinate the educational curriculum. In June of 2011, she left Spear Education, founded and joined the dental practice she now owns as an associate. Today, she teaches at dental meetings and study clubs both nationally and internationally, continues to write for dental journals and her website, sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry, Inside Dentistry and DentalTown Magazines and is the Director of Education for The Pankey Institute.

One thought on “How I Use Mallampati Scores for Airway Screening

  1. Its relevant to mention that what you are referring to is actually the Friedman’s modification of the Mallampati score or more recently termed the Friedman tongue position (FTP).

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