Updated: Aug 24
Airway disorder awareness is one of the most powerful tools any parent has in their parenting arsenal, yet, it's also one of the most unknown. From the moment they are born, our hearts are filled with love for them and we work tirelessly to ensure they have the best life possible.
As parents we guide them along their childhood journey, helping with school work, kissing scraped knees, and ensuring they eat well. We take them to their pediatrician for check-ups and their dentist for regular cleanings. But what if, even if we are doing everything 'right' we are still missing something that can cause long-term health consequences for our children?
This is exactly what is happening for more than 400-million children around the globe. Every day, children with treatable airway disorders are being undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Why? Because unfortunately, parents don't know the signs and symptoms to look for and many of our brightest medical professionals are not being trained to evaluate children properly.
WHAT ARE AIRWAY DISORDERS?
Airway disorders include a wide variety of conditions that affect a child’s breathing passages. Pediatric airway disorders can result from issues, blockage, or malformities to the nose, throat, trachea, and bronchi.
Mouth breathing, sleep-disorder breathing, and snoring can disrupt brain development causing attention, behavior, and learning issues for children. An often overlooked group of symptoms associated with childhood airway disorders include bed-wetting, nightmares, sleepwalking, and colic.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF PEDIATRIC AIRWAY DISORDERS?
Becoming airway aware includes monitoring more than just your child's breathing. Breathing can impact the way a child eats, behaves, interacts with others, or even sleeps.
Over 90 types of sleep disorders can be diagnosed. One of these sleep disorders is sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), which can affect a child's brain, heart, blood pressure, growth, appetite, and teeth and jaw development. According to estimates, at least 33% of children suffer from sleep disorders.
At least 12-14% of children have some form of Sleep Disordered Breathing (SBD), such as snoring or mouth breathing:
95% of children with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) are never diagnosed.
Kids with OSAs are five times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.
According to a 2016 report by the CDC, approximately 25% of preschool children have behavioral sleep problems and 1% to 20% of preschool-aged children experience sleep-disordered breathing, which spans a continuum from snoring to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and causes symptoms such as ADHD and behavioral issues.
CAN ORTHODONTIA BE DANGEROUS FOR A CHILD WITH AN UNDIAGNOSED AIRWAY DISORDER?
Yes, orthodontics can be dangerous for any child with an undiagnosed airway disorder. Why? It can make it even harder for the child to get air and cause long-term hypoxic brain damage.
According to Dr. Howard Hindin, "Orthodontics often erroneously remove teeth to provide room to produce straight teeth without gaps. While it might look good, this can result in recessed jaws and diminished airways in children. It is critical that pediatricians and pediatric dentists collaborate on treatments for children to prevent this all too often occurrence."
Dentists can use facial alignment to help identify possible issues. Poorly defined cheekbones, crooked teeth, an elongated or narrow face, and a set-back jaw are all indicators of an airway disorder.
According to Kevin Boyd, DDS MSC Pediatric Dentist, "Early signs of deficient growth of craniofacial-mandibular complex structures, can often be observed in utero on mid-gestational pre-natal ultrasound images."
This further supports the concept of why it is important that interdisciplinary teams (including obstetrics, pediatrics, speech pathologists, nutritionists, and pediatric dentistry) should work together to form a more holistic and comprehensive approach to children's health and development.
HOW CAN I TELL IF MY CHILD HAS AN AIRWAY DISORDER?
There are several signs and symptoms to look for that will help to identify if your child might have an airway disorder. Ask yourself the following:
Does your child sleep through the night?
How many times does your child chew each bite or mouthful before swallowing?
Does your child almost always have a stuffy nose?
Does your child have a "worried" expression when swallowing?
Does your child sleep with an open mouth?
These are just a few of the questions that can help you identify if your child might be dealing with a sleep-breathing or other airway disorder.
As with any medical condition, consult your child's pediatrician should you see any of these symptoms in your child or if you suspect your child is suffering from an airway disorder.