Sleep-related breathing disorders (SRBD) is a term used to describe disruptions of normal breathing during sleep. These disruptions can range from snoring to severe, long pauses in breathing (called apnea events) during the night. In both adults and children, cessations of breathing interrupt normal sleep cycles, thereby fragmenting sleep. These disruptions can lead to sleep deprivation and a multitude of related health complications and stresses. Research has shown that chronic suffering of symptoms associated with SDB or sleep apnea can also lead to additional diagnoses such as allergies, developmental issues, or behavioral disorders like ADD/ADHD and/or depression.
Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that blocks the airway partially or completely during sleep. There is a difference between pediatric and adult sleep apnea. Many adults with sleep apnea experience sleepiness during the day; however, many children with sleep apnea also experience behavioral issues. In adults the main cause of sleep apnea is typically obesity, but for children the condition is often caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
Sleeping and breathing properly are crucial parts of a child’s growth and development.
Many significant growth and developmental milestones occur during our first 18 months of life. In fact, 60% of a child’s facial development is completed by age 6, and 90% is completed by age 12.
As children grow, proper breathing is essential to their health, development, and educational success. Early detection and correction of airway problems can be integral to optimizing this fundamental and critical physiology. Airway evaluation is an important part of the process.
Many parents aren’t aware of the importance of ensuring their child’s airways are clear and free of obstructions. Children who cannot breathe well through their nose tend to breathe through their mouth. This sets up a chain of events which may severely impact not only the health of a child but also the way a child’s facial features develop—and ultimately the way a child looks as an adult.
We often forget how strong the tongue can be, and what a major role it plays in breathing. The effects of an underdeveloped airway are revealed in many ways. When a child is breathing through their mouth, the tongue often positions itself snugly in the lower jaw to allow more oxygen to enter. This in turn changes the growth of the lower jaw, enabling it to grow more vertically and make the face look longer.
At the same time, since nasal breathing is severely compromised, the upper jaw and midface (the nasal bones, cheek bones, and bones supporting the tissue of the face) fail to develop at a normal rate because the natural growth stimulant of air flow through the nose is absent. This results in a growth deficiency of the upper jaw and midface which, added to the long facial growth from the lower jaw, impacts the facial balance of a child and later as an adult.
Children and infants are particularly vulnerable to the serious effects of SDB because their bodies and brains are still growing. Not only do pediatric sleep problems affect childrens’ health, but they can impact family dynamics and parental or sibling sleep. Children may suffer from:
Symptoms specific to pediatric obstructive sleep apnea can include:
Additional oral signs and symptoms that can indicate breathing difficulties can include:
It’s important to be mindful of any signs or symptoms your child may display, and share these concerns with our dentists. Additionally, our dentists are always on the lookout for telltale signs that your child may be suffering from breathing issues during sleep, and will recommend a diagnostic evaluation when appropriate. To schedule a discovery session where you can learn more about our comprehensive integrative approach, please contact us at Ashburn Children’s Dentistry.
Although it may seem odd to visit the dentist to treat symptoms of sleep-related problems and airway conditions, our pediatric dentists have undergone years of training on how to treat symptoms affecting the craniofacial form and function. During development, the airway, mode of breathing, and malocclusion are so interrelated that they should be treated early and holistically by your dentist.
We utilize the i-CAT™ FLEX 3D imaging machine, which relies on cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) to help diagnose our patients. This cutting-edge technology is able to see the jaw joints, airway, sinuses, nose, and more. With these comprehensive images, which illuminate clinical signs and symptoms, our experienced staff will be able to determine if your child is experiencing sleep and developmental issues caused by a blocked airway. For each day that goes by for children suffering from restricted airways, the condition typically worsens—their potential growth and development can be diminished and the window of time to treat them conservatively may narrow.
We pride ourselves on precision diagnosis and treatment of airway issues. We check for proper development of the jaw and harmony of the face. We also provide at-home sleep study tests (described in more detail in the section below) and screen for irregular breathing and oral habits, which can result in abnormal dentofacial development with age. By working with the natural growth instead of against it, we can prevent problems from developing or prevent them from becoming worse. We are committed to giving your child a lifetime of healthy smiles and deep breathing!
We now offer at-home sleep study tests to aid our dentists in diagnosing pediatric sleep apnea and other nighttime breathing issues. The state-of-the-art, clinically validated WatchPAT® system from Itamar™ Medical simplifies the sleep study process and records comprehensive, accurate data that helps our dentists make proper diagnoses for patients. The WatchPAT® system is worn while your child sleeps comfortably at home, and is approved for use on children who are 65 pounds or more. Typically, our dentists recommend an at-home sleep study while other diagnostic records are being obtained. The robust information gathered during the sleep study assists our dentists in developing the most suitable and effective growth and development strategies for your child.
At Ashburn Children’s Dentistry, we want to help treat the root cause of your child’s sleeping or breathing problems. The main goals of treatment are to use therapies that can help reposition the jaw or tongue and keep the upper airway open. Benefits to early evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment include:
Every child is unique and our team will create personalized treatments based on your child’s needs. We utilize integrative, advanced, research-based therapies to deliver the results each child deserves. Therapies include, but are not limited to, oral appliances, frenum reduction, and myofunctional therapy to promote proper nasal breathing, growth, and development. If circumstances allow, we work with physicians, myofunctional therapists, ENT doctors, osteopathic physicians, and other providers to help your child achieve a predictably healthy smile for a lifetime!
Effective treatments for correcting pediatric sleep apnea can include:
Avoiding airway irritants and allergens is a preventative measure that can be taken to avoid irritation and congestion of the airway.
Specialized dental devices or mouthpieces can be effective in repositioning your child’s lower jaw and tongue to better open the airway. A personalized pediatric sleep apnea dental device can help to alleviate your child’s symptoms, resulting in improved sleep and overall well-being.
This form of therapy uses a specialized device that applies consistent air pressure to the airway through a mask that is attached to a tube. The mask is gently applied to the child’s face over the nose and mouth. The machine delivers consistent air pressure to the airway to help them remain open throughout the night.
At Ashburn Children’s Dentistry, we have made it our duty to educate parents and help our young patients. Our experienced dentists and the entire ACD team are enthusiastic about partnering with families to address the root cause(s) of children’s airway compromises. If you think that your child is suffering from pediatric obstructive sleep apnea or another type of sleep-related breathing disorder, we encourage you to schedule a discovery session. Our amazing team can help diagnose your child and determine the best course of treatment. We look forward to hearing from you!