Sleep Apnea in Children
Can Be Serious
Children and Sleep
Imagine your little one getting up in the morning fully rested, excited to meet the day, with no complaining. Does that picture fit what really happens in your household?
Many children have undiagnosed breathing issues that rob them of restful sleep. They don’t even know that their sleep is getting interrupted. But it can damage many areas of health.
What does a dentist know about sleep? We’re trained to understand the mouth, teeth, and airway. They’re all closely related, and they can all affect your sleep; we’re passionate about helping our patients at Clocktower Family Dental get better rest!
Symptoms of Sleep Problems
Your child won’t tell you he or she didn’t sleep enough—they likely won’t say that sleep is a problem at all. The truth is, children can have sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, just like adults do. But they won’t know that they have it.
They may have symptoms or related factors such as:
- 1. Snoring: Snoring in children can be a sign that their tongue or other tissues are pressing on their airway, causing vibration in their throat and lowering the amount of oxygen they get during sleep.
- 2. Large tonsils or adenoids: Enlarged tissues at the back of the throat can block airflow.
- 3. Bed Wetting: When breathing is interrupted during the night, it stresses the brain, which sometimes must give up on bladder control to compensate.
- 4. Allergies: Sleep problems and allergies are often linked, as allergies can enlarge airway tissues and block airflow.
- 5. Asthma: Asthma and sleep issues are closely related, sharing risk factors and contributing to each other.
- 6. Hyperactivity: Lack of restful sleep can create behaviors similar to ADHD and cause learning problems.
Lack of restful sleep is a problem for anyone, but it hits children really hard. They are still growing, their brains still developing.
Sleep disorders that cut off their oxygen flow during the night can slow down their growth. They can have trouble learning in school. So, it’s very important to get help so they can sleep deeply again.
Why Dentistry Can Help Children Sleep
Most people don’t think about sleeping when they think about the dentist, but dentistry and sleep can be closely linked.
Why? Because of:
- Sleep Apnea: This is a condition where oxygen levels at night start to drop. An apnea is when you stop breathing; a hypopnea is when you don’t breathe deep enough to get enough oxygen to your body. Apneas and hypopneas can start and stop many times during the night—without the person fully waking up or being aware.
- Airway Dentistry: Sleep apnea has many factors. Tonsils, adenoids, and decreased tongue space or function are just some of the things that can worsen sleep apnea. For this reason, we use a team approach which includes referrals to sleep specialists, ENTs, and myofunctional therapists if necessary. When it comes to airway health, the shape of the jaw for tongue space and the release of tethered oral tissues should be part of your child’s airway plan—which we are trained to deal with!
As part of your child’s airway team, we can improve the jaw position, the positioning of the teeth, and the release of tethered oral tissues (TOTS)—all to improve airflow and help your child sleep.
Dental Solutions for Better Sleep
Some of the top solutions dentists use for airway health include:
- Orthodontics: We could guide the shape of your child’s jaw and teeth using traditional braces, expanders, or clear aligners.
- Custom Mouthguards: We can create a custom appliance that moves the jaw just at night, keeping the airway open all night.
- Frenectomy: Tethered oral tissue (TOTS), including tongue ties, can prevent normal function and keep the tongue from staying up and out of the airway.
During a consultation, the dentist will carefully look at all risk factors and possible solutions. Then, we’ll discuss our top recommendations with you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes sleep disorders in children?
Sleep-disordered breathing is often linked to:
- A family history of sleep apnea.
- A person being above their ideal weight.
- Issues with the shape of the mouth, throat, or jaw.
- Tissues around the airway.
How do I know if my child has sleep issues caused by breathing disorders?
The only way to get a diagnosis is to go to a pediatric sleep specialist and get a sleep study. This will reveal how your child breathes during the night, the oxygen flow they are getting, and more.
You can start—before you go to the doctor—by asking yourself certain questions, such as:
- Has a teacher or I observed that my child seems sleepy throughout the day?
- Does my child usually breathe through the mouth during the day?
- Does my child wake up with headaches?
- Is it hard to wake him or her up?
- Have I ever seen my child stop breathing while they sleep?
- Does my child snore?
- Does my child breathe loudly during the day or at night?
- Is my child easily distracted?
How is the jaw related to sleep?
The upper jawbone, or hard palate, is connected to the floor of the nose. Together with the lower jawbone, nose, tongue, tonsils, adenoids, soft palate, and teeth create the space that air flows through. We need all of these structures to work in harmony so they don’t get in the way of breathing and decrease oxygen flow during the night.
What are the risks of sleep disorders?
Children who have airway obstructions during the night are deprived of oxygen. This can slow growth and development in their body and brain. It can even lower their IQ.
If sleep problems continue into adulthood, they’re associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other serious issues.
When should children be screened for sleep issues?
Since the greatest part of brain development happens before age 5, it’s important to get them checked for sleep disorders as early as possible—maybe even before age 5.
Contact Clocktower Family Dental for a Sleep Consultation
At Clocktower Family Dental, our dentists have experience in children’s dentistry and improved breathing for better sleep. If you’re concerned that your child may have a sleep issue, take the sleep questionnaire here on our website.
Contact us for a consultation, no matter what age your child is. We’ll be happy to work with you and your family to help your child sleep better.