Updated: Aug 23
When it comes to doctor visits for waddlers and toddlers, one pediatric professional parents often overlook is the pediatric airway-centered dentist. Airway dentistry treats common and complex concerns related to a child's bite and palate, which can affect how a child breathes.
Many parents fall prey to the misconception that a child doesn't have many teeth, they don't need to see a dentist yet.
“A visit should take place by their first birthday, or six months after the first tooth becomes visible — whichever is earlier,” says Stephanie Goodson, M.D., a pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
An airway dentist will assess the condition of a child's soft tissue, tongue location, the shape of the palate, and jaw alignment. When children are very young, these issues can be caught and treated with minimal effort, which can prevent years of breathing and health issues for a child as they mature into adulthood.
HOW DO PEDIATRIC AIRWAYS DIFFER FROM ADULT AIRWAYS?
A pediatric airway has a smaller diameter and shorter length than an adult's. The oropharynx of a young child has a relatively larger tongue than that of an adult. Compared to adults, the larynx of an infant is more anterior.
There are several development characteristics that distinguish pediatric airways from adult airways:
Pediatric airways are smaller in diameter and shorter in length than adult ones.
In the oropharynx, the tongue of a young child is relatively larger than that of an adult.
Infants and young children have a more anteriorly located larynx compared to adults.
Infants and young children have relatively long, floppy, and narrow epiglottis.
Children under the age of 10 have the narrowest airway at the level of the cricoid cartilage below the glottis.
A smaller pediatric upper airway, a relatively larger tongue, and a relatively long and "floppy" epiglottis predispose young children to airway obstruction during sedation.
In addition, the large occiput of an infant causes the head and neck to be flexed when the patient is positioned recumbently, further exacerbating airway obstruction.
WHAT CAN CAUSE A CHILD TO STRUGGLE WITH BREATHING?
Children are naturally in a state of perpetual motion, so it's very normal to see them short of breath after running, jumping, and playing. However, it's not normal for a child to breathe through their mouths the majority of the time or to have consistently noisy breathing. Both of these are signs of a potential breathing disorder.
Here are a few other symptoms to look for if you suspect your child might have an undiagnosed breathing issue:
Difficulty catching their breath after running or walking up a flight of stairs
Noisy or audible breathing
Increased crying or bedwetting episodes at night
Waking with a dry mouth or sore throat
Trouble waking up
Problems concentrating at school; brain fog
Being diagnosed with ADHD
Chronic anxiety and allergies
Mouth breathing during the day
You should seek emergency medical care if your child appears to be having difficulty breathing, or if you notice abnormal behaviors or actions. These symptoms indicate that you should visit the pediatric ER:
Faster breathing than usual
Having a hard time breathing normally
Bluish or pale skin tone
Fainting or becoming despondent
WHY MOUTH BREATHING ISN'T NORMAL
Especially at a young age, mouth breathing can change the structure and development of a child's face. There are also physical signs such as an inability to seal lips, dark circles under the eyes, a long face, an open bite, a high or narrowing palate, or a sudden change in posture.
In addition to their facial development, mouth breathing can pose negative threats to a child's long-term health. These changes can have long-term effects on their health by:
Decreasing quality of sleep
Causing poorly functioning auto-immune system
Decreasing brain function and IQ
Impacting speech and swelling capabilities
Increasing risk for dental complications
One way to help your child transition from mouth breathing to nasal breathing is to practice airway-focused breathing with them on a daily basis. Benefits of airway focused breathing include:
Better body function & development
Maximum growth potential