Sleep and Children

Boy asleep on deskMost people think of sleep apnea as a problem in overweight adults, but more children suffer from sleep apnea that many realize. Some studies estimate that as many as 12% of children have this disorder, whether or not they have a weight problem.

Sleep apnea is the result of a partial or complete obstruction in the airway that causes involuntary pauses in breathing while your child sleeps. It occurs during sleep because that is when the back of the throat is most relaxed.

It interferes with restful sleep and can cause a number of both short-term and long-term problems. These include ADHD, learning disabilities, behavioral issues, depression, obesity, upper respiratory infections, and slowed growth.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea in children. It is often caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids. These organs are part of the lymphatic system.

Some of the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea in children include:

  • Sleep Apnea in Children diagramCrowded teeth
  • Overbite or underbite
  • Teeth grinding
  • Narrow dental arches
  • Tossing and turning during the night
  • Frequently awakening during the night
  • Mouth breathing during sleep
  • Pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Snoring
  • Night sweats
  • Night terrors
  • Sleep walking
  • Sleeping in unusual positions
  • Feeling very tired in the morning or sleepy during the day
  • Morning headaches
  • Bed wetting

If you suspect your child might have sleep apnea, it is important to be evaluated by a doctor. After examining your child, if breathing problems look like a possibility, the doctor will have your child take a sleep test or polysomnogram. This might be done overnight at a sleep center, where brain waves, muscle tension, eye movements, gasping, snoring, and respiration/oxygen levels in the blood can be monitored. There are also sleep tests that can be done at home, however.

Dentofacial Orthopedic Orthodontics for Sleep Apnea

It may be surprising to hear that a dentist can help your child treat sleep apnea, but one of the causes of the breathing obstruction often relates to the placement/function of the jaw and tongue, as the list of symptoms attests. TMJ displacement of the jaw joint can often cause breathing dysfunction.

Child with large tonsilsEnlarged tonsils and adenoids can result in mouth breathing and misuse of the tongue. If the tongue is used improperly over time, it can affect the growth of the palate in the mouth. This can lead to problems with the airway in adulthood and even an insufficient amount of room in the mouth for the adult teeth.

Orthopedic orthodontics can correct displacement of the jaw and prevent future problems while the child is still growing. Dr. Singer has many years of experience working with children to resolve issues like obstructive sleep apnea.