Sleep Apnea In Children More Common Than Many Realize

added on: February 12, 2018

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! While your choice of dental offices is important for all family members, our young patients have a partiular ‘leg up’ when it comes to healthy smiles that integrate with their overall health.

We encourage early care visits, by the time your children reaches age 1. This is beneficial so we can monitor tooth eruption and assist you in keeping the important ‘baby’ teeth healthy. However, our registered dental hygienists are also trained to look for signs of abnormal bite developments as well as sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea in children?

Sleep apnea is a medical condition, not a dental condition. However, dentists have an up-close view of airway passages. Therefore, a trained dental professional can watch for early interferences before they become more-complicated problems.

In some patients, certain airway obstructions may be obvious. This is especially true for children. According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 3 percent of children (including newborns) suffer with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Most are between the ages of 2 – 8 years old.

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, “Several recent studies have found behavioral problems in children who snore that parallel problems found in children with OSA.” (

During sleep, our body relaxes, as do the muscles in airway passages. An obstruction causes the airway to narrow or close while breathing in. Without sufficient air intake, the brain senses this inability to breathe and briefly rouses you so you reopen your airway.

When aroused, sleep apnea sufferers typically make a snorting, choking or gasping sound. This pattern can occur 30 times or more each hour throughout the night. While snoring and subsequent snorting or choking sounds are typical with sleep apnea, some people make no noise at all. This can also be the case with children.

In adults, the ‘obstruction’ factor tends to occur when the muscles in the back of the throat relax into the airway or being overweight contributes to blockages. For children, however, the tonsils or adenoids can be significant factors in blocking air intake during sleep. Children may also have genetic traits that create narrow airway passages that are more pronounced in younger years.

Although some children may grow out of airflow problems, others don’t. Many children overcome blockage issues when the tonsils or adenoids are removed, yet, for others, unresolved sleep apnea can lead to:

• Snoring
• Mouth breathing during sleep
• Headaches
• Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
• Concentration or attention span difficulties
• Bed-wetting
• Behavioral problems
• Poor performance at school

While daytime fatigue is associated with sleep apnea, it can cause health risks far more serious. We’ve all endured a challenging day here or there when we failed to get enough sleep, such as feeling sluggish, foggy and less energetic. When sleep quality is compromised night after night, however, a number of problems can occur.

These disruptions in breathing impair one’s ability to achieve the deep sleep the brain needs to function efficiently during wakefulness. Naturally, inadequate oxygen flow to the brain and heart can eventually increase the risk for heart attack and stroke. Weight gain is commonly associated with sleep apnea as hunger hormones are triggered as the body searches for energy sources. Additionally, sleep apnea can increase one’s risk for diabetes and obesity.

Sleep apnea tends to run in families. Children who have enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids are at a higher risk for OSA. Other factors include being obese, having a small jaw or mid-face, or large tongue. Children who are exposed to tobacco smoke and children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or neuromuscular disorders are also more susceptible to sleep apnea.

During your child’s hygiene visits, our hygienists will look for signs of airway obstruction or abnormal jaw formations. Because we have an orthodontic specialist on our team, Dr. Jessica Delgado can evaluate your child and discuss any problems with you. When these abnormalities are caught early, she may be able to begin an early treatment program that uses an expander. This comfortable appliance can gently guide your child’s development so he or she may be able to avoid these issues, and at times, even avoid the need for orthodontic treatment in adolescent years.

As always, our goal is to help you prevent problems. For example, we’d rather help you prevent a cavity than treat one. Like you, we love your child’s smile! And, like you, we’d rather help your child enjoy a smile that complements his or her overall health and well-being, now and for a lifetime of terrific smiles! With early care, we may be able to help your child avoid many problems, some which can arise later in life, including sleep apnea and TMJ disorder.

Just as we want the very best for our own children, we want the very best for yours! That begins with an involved relationship with you! If you would like to discuss symptoms that may be associated with sleep apnea, ask for a no-charge consultation. Call 586-739-2155.

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Dr. Ban R. Barbat

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