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Cephalometric changes in adult pharyngeal morphology

CH Johnston, A Richardson
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ejo/21.4.357 357-362 First published online: 1 August 1999


This cephalometric study investigated morphological changes occurring in the pharynx between early and middle adult life. A sample of 16 young adults (mean age 20.2 years) had cephalometric films taken and repeated after an interval of 32 years. Changes in pharyngeal skeletal size, pharyngeal soft tissue thickness, pharyngeal airway depth, and soft palate dimensions were examined, in addition to standard craniofacial measurements. The results showed increases in maxillary prominence, and upper and lower anterior face height. The nasopharyngeal skeletal dimensions were unchanged over the 32-year interval, while the anteroposterior depth of the nasopharyngeal lumen increased as a result of a reduction in thickness of the posterior nasopharyngeal wall. In the oropharynx, the depth of the airway decreased with age, and the soft palate became longer and thicker.

The findings indicate that pharyngeal morphology is not immutably established during childhood and adolescence, but changes throughout adult life. The tendency towards a longer and thicker soft palate, and narrower oropharynx during adulthood is discussed in relation to their possible role in explaining the increased prevalence of obstructive sleep apnoea and related disorders in later life.