Is your child showing signs of abrupt mood changes, heavy snoring, restless sleep, or decreased energy levels?

Believe it or not, these symptoms may be due to a disorder in children known as pediatric sleep-disordered breathing. Even more noteworthy, this breathing issue can be effectively diagnosed and treated at your dentist’s office.

What is pediatric sleep-disordered breathing?

Pediatric sleep-disordered breathing is a medical condition that refers to abnormal breathing patterns during sleep in children. This can include symptoms such as pauses in breathing, shallow breathing, or irregular breathing patterns. It’s commonly referred to as sleep apnea. It can lead to disrupted sleep and affect the child’s overall health and well-being if left untreated.

Typically, sleep apnea in children is caused by an obstruction in their airways. This temporary interruption in breathing decreases the oxygen levels and increases CO2 levels in the blood, causing brief awakenings that restore normal breathing.

Due to the brief nature of these awakenings, it’s sometimes difficult to diagnose sleep apnea. However, this can lead to serious consequences, as even short awakenings can greatly impact the quality of their sleep and rest.

What are the causes of pediatric sleep-disordered breathing?

Pediatric sleep apnea is a common condition affecting children. According to recent estimates, 2-3% of children suffer from sleep apnea, with the highest prevalence among children who are overweight or obese, have large tonsils or adenoids, or have certain medical conditions.

However, the actual prevalence of pediatric sleep apnea may be higher, as many cases go undiagnosed. It is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea and to seek medical evaluation if they suspect that their child is suffering from it.

While most kids experience obstructive sleep apnea, there are actually 3 distinct types of pediatric sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): The most frequent type of sleep apnea, OSA is caused by a blockage in the airway, often due to obesity, an enlarged tongue, tonsils, or head and neck anatomy.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: A less common form of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
  • Complex Sleep Apnea: The rarest form of sleep apnea, complex sleep apnea is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

Pediatric sleep apnea risk factors

Risk factors for pediatric sleep apnea include:

  • Obesity or overweight
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Large tonsils or adenoids
  • Neurological conditions
  • Prematurity
  • Anatomical abnormalities
  • Gender – boys are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea than girls.
  • Age – sleep apnea is most common in children between the ages of 2 and 8 years old.

It’s important to note that not all children with these risk factors will develop sleep apnea, and other factors may also contribute to the development of the condition. If you have concerns about your child’s sleep, it’s best to consult with a doctor.

How does sleep-disordered breathing affect my child’s life?

Sleep apnea can actually have a profound effect on your child’s quality of life if not treated.
Typically, sleep apnea creates a vicious cycle of poor sleep quality, causing symptoms such as drowsiness, irritability, difficulty focusing, and sometimes insomnia. This exacerbates sleep apnea and can result in significant personal and professional difficulties.

It can also have adverse effects on your child’s health. This includes:

  • High blood pressure as a result of the stress from repeated breathing interruptions.
  • Higher risk of heart disease and stroke, which is caused by less oxygen in their blood and being constantly woken up.
  • Weight gain and a less active lifestyle.

Pediatric sleep-disordered breathing can have significant effects on a child’s life, including:

  • Poor sleep quality – sleep apnea can cause fragmented sleep, leading to daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
  • Behavioral problems – sleep-disordered breathing can lead to mood swings, irritability, and conduct problems.
  • Learning difficulties – children with sleep apnea may have trouble paying attention in school, leading to lower grades and difficulty with learning.
  • Growth and development issues – sleep apnea can affect growth and development, including weight gain, delayed speech, and dental problems.
  • Social difficulties – sleep apnea can lead to social isolation and difficulties with interpersonal relationships.

Early diagnosis and treatment of pediatric sleep-disordered breathing can help prevent or mitigate these effects and improve the quality of life for children affected by the condition.

A dental solution for your child’s obstructive sleep apnea

While central sleep apnea requires a trip to a neurologist, obstructive sleep apnea can actually be treated by a dentist.

In fact, since dentists work to improve your oral health, they are likely your best shot at adequately treating obstructive sleep apnea. They also can be on the lookout for signs of obstructive sleep apnea.

Some common dental problems that could indicate sleep apnea:

  • Teeth grinding: As part of being startled awake, it’s thought that the muscle activity in your jaw increases and leads to tooth clenching and grinding. Studies also show that your jaw might clamp down when being startled awake.
  • Jaw, tongue, and throat issues: Some signs include small jaw bones, a large neck, deviated septum, redness in your throat, or large tongue and tonsils.

How Brimfield Family Dentistry treats pediatric sleep-disordered breathing

At Brimfield Family Dentistry, we take obstructive sleep apnea very seriously. If you believe your child may be experiencing sleep apnea, we’ll work with you to determine what is going on.

Our dentists are your partners in the early diagnosis of sleep disorders, including OSA and SDB. Since sleep issues often present symptoms in the teeth, jaw, and mouth, we can help detect airway issues before or as they start.

Our office provides modern, comfortable sleep apnea and sleep-disordered breathing treatments.

Oral Appliance

Our sleep apnea appliances are small, comfortable, and custom-made to fit your mouth. We recommend an appliance for children with mild to moderate symptoms or for those who cannot tolerate a CPAP machine. Worn like a retainer or mouthguard, this appliance keeps your airway open and clear all night long.

HeathyStart System for Kids

We offer the HealthyStart System as a modern, non-invasive, pain-free approach to opening your child’s airway while they sleep. This comfortable, removable device is similar to a retainer and helps bring the upper and lower jaws forward, widen the airway, and encourage nasal breathing. This system can even help correct crowded, misaligned teeth!

Help your child get a restful sleep!

At Brimfield Family Dentistry, we offer an inclusive, caring environment where you can seek treatment for complex airway issues without ever feeling judged or nervous. It all starts with our years of clinical expertise and commitment to advanced technology. We’ll help your child sleep better and feel better. Book online today!