Updated: May 12
Are your children snoring, awakening with dry mouth and headaches, and having trouble staying awake and focused during the day? If so, it may be time to consult your pediatric dentist since these symptoms are often related to sleep-disordered breathing.
Sleep-disordered breathing and sleep apnea can cause repeated breathing interruptions throughout the night. The pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and may occur 30 or more times per hour.
During sleep, if a child's breathing is disrupted, the body thinks that the child is choking. The heart rate rises, blood pressure rises, the brain is aroused, and sleep can be disrupted. Oxygen levels may also drop. All of those can put stress on your child's body and immune system.
Common signs of sleep-disordered breathing in children include:
habitual snoring (more than 3 nights per week)
gasps or snorting noises while sleeping
labored breathing during sleep
grinding of the teeth
frequent night sweats or sleep talking
sleeping in a seated position or with the neck hyperextended
daytime sleepiness and an inability to focus
headache upon waking up
While many people believe this to be an adult issue, it is estimated that from 10-25% of children snore, while obstructive sleep apnea affects 1-10% of children. According to a study conducted by Healthy People 2030, only 65% of children between the ages of 4-months and 14-years old get a sufficient amount of sleep each night.
CAN SLEEP APNEA CAUSE DENTAL PROBLEMS?
In addition to mental and physical fatigue, sleep apnea has a direct correlation to dental health. A child with sleep apnea breathes through their mouth. Mouth breathing results in dry mouth and contributes to tooth decay and plaque. Additionally, gum inflammation and periodontitis are associated with dry mouth. In many cases, sleep apnea first appears as tooth grinding (also known as bruxism). Dentists look for worn surfaces on a patient's teeth to determine if they grind them. Grinding may lead to tooth wear and breakage, as well as inflamed gums and receding gums.
According to the Sleep Foundation, one in every four people who has sleep apnea grinds their teeth.
Your child's practice of grinding their teeth while sleeping is not normal or healthy. It is often overlooked as one of the first signs of sleep apnea. Aside from your child's dental health, grinding their teeth could be a red flag of a bigger health issue, such as sleep-disordered breathing, which could put your child at risk for long-term health issues.
HOW ARE SLEEP-RELATED BREATHING DISORDERED TREATED BY DENTISTS?
Pediatric airway dentists and hygienists are experts when it comes to evaluating, diagnosing, and treating issues related to the oral cavity. They can address soft tissue dysfunctions that may compromise the airway and can often alter the growth patterns of the jaw.
As pediatric dentists often see children more often than any other health care provider, they are in the best position to recognize airway problems. Once spotted, they will work with your child's pediatrician to establish a suitable treatment plan for your child.
WHAT IS NOSE BREATHING PREFERABLE TO MOUTH BREATHING?
Children suffering from sleep-disorder breathing are often mouth breathers, both when awake or asleep. Not only can mouth breathing dry out the mouth, but it can also lead to gum disease and tooth decay.
Mouth breathing, especially at a young age, can dramatically change the development and structure of a child's face. Some of the physical signs include an inability to seal lips, dark circles under the eyes, a long face, an open bite, a high or narrowing palate, or a dramatic 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
Both pediatricians and pediatric airway dentists agree that nasal breathing is the body's natural breathing preference. Their goal is to help your child return to a state of nose breathing.
WHEN YOU SHOULD CONTACT YOUR PEDIATRIC DENTIST OR PEDIATRICIAN?
Children who aren't sleeping well may be unable to focus, be irritable, or show poor impulse control. Consult a doctor whenever you notice any abnormal sleep symptoms.