Have you noticed your child has been snoring? This may be a symptom of sleep disordered breathing, airway or orthodontic issues. In this post, our orthodontists in BC and Alberta discuss how these may be related - and what you can do next.
Why is my child snoring?
While snoring isn't all that common in young children (only about 1 in 10 kids snore), it may or may not point to something serious. Sometimes, snoring can indicate acute illness (such as a cold) or allergies. Regular, habitual snoring is typically a symptom of a sleep disorder or airway issues.
Of kids who snore, a small number have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a medical condition that leaves the airway partially or completely obstructed during sleep. This disorder can later become serious and even life-threatening. Even if your child doesn't have OSA, mild sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) can potentially cause similar issues.
What is sleep-disordered breathing?
Sleep-disordered breathing is an umbrella term that refers to any breathing problems during sleep. These issues can range from loud or frequent snoring to the serious condition of OSA.
As your child falls asleep, the muscles supporting their airways and tongue relax. This can cause the tongue to fall into the throat, which reduces the amount of air that passes through. Combined with their relaxed soft throat tissues, this can lead to a constricted airway and cause a vibration of air as it attempts to make its way through a too-small opening. The result: the sound you recognize as snoring as you pass by your child's room at night or drive them home after a long day.
Sleep disordered breathing can cause many symptoms other than snoring as breathing is interrupted during sleep. Oxygen levels in the blood begin to drop, blood pressure starts to rise and heart rate increases since the body registers this disruption as choking.
What causes sleep-disordered breathing?
Insufficient oral development and the narrowing of the airway are the two primary causes of SDB.
1. Oral & Dental Development
Many oral and dental issues, such as abnormal development of the tongue or jaw, can put children at high risk for sleep disorders. Children with cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular issues are also at increased risk. Sometimes, the tongue does not rest properly in the jaw due to crooked teeth or abnormal development in the jaw. This can lead to sleep apnea.
2. Airway Constriction
The most common cause of constriction in children's airways is enlarged adenoids and tonsils. These glands can swell, triggering a child to breathe through their mouth. This means that the tongue doesn't sit properly in their oral cavity, which can lead to a narrowed or constricted upper archway.
3. Obesity & Other Conditions
Excess weight and obesity can also put a child at risk for SDB. Fat deposits collect around the back of the neck and throat, constricting airways.
Other contributing factors include digestive and respiratory system conditions, such as asthma.
Signs & Symptoms of Childhood Sleep Apnea
Symptoms of childhood sleep apnea go far beyond snoring. They can impact almost every aspect of your child's life and lead to serious health issues later. Common signs of sleep apnea in children include:
- Extended pauses in breathing
- Waking up with a sore or dry throat
- Gasping or choking for air while asleep
- Lack of energy
- Behaviour Issues, and symptoms that might be mistaken for ADHD
- Falling asleep during activities and class; daytime sleepiness
- Difficult focusing on tasks or concentrating on school or homework
If you notice these symptoms in your child, speak to their doctor. If they are officially diagnosed with sleep apnea, a number of different approaches may be taken depending on your child's specific needs and circumstances.
Scheduling an assessment with one of our orthodontists can help. We take a client-first, non-invasive approach to orthodontics and seek to establish an overall balance for dento-facial health by improving airway issues and helping to build confidence with straighter smiles. We can help guide jaw development, paying careful attention to airway health and breathing.
How Airway-Focused Orthodontics Can Help
Children with sleep apnea (and their parents) have sometimes been experiencing and noticing these symptoms for a while by the time they start to suspect airway issues or sleep apnea and come in for an assessment. During their initial visit, we'll perform a thorough examination and take their medical history, along with X-rays. Here are some common treatment options we often recommend when it comes to using orthodontics to help treat sleep apnea and airway issues:
- Palatal Expander or Other Appliance - For children whose jaws are still developing, a palatal expander can be used to widen a narrow palate (roof of the mouth) and expand the airway. Other devices can train the tongue to remain in its proper position so that the airway isn't obstructed.
- Braces - Sometimes, the jaw's position can interfere with breathing, leading to snoring and sleep apnea. Depending on your child's case, braces might help. Symptoms of sleep apnea may improve as the bite gradually shifts into alignment during treatment.
- Custom Mouthpiece - Some custom oral appliances are made to be worn while your child sleeps to keep the tongue from blocking the airway, and the jaw in a forward position and down, essentially opening the airway and supporting proper airflow through the night. Non-invasive oral appliances are often part of an orthodontic treatment plan for sleep apnea and related issues.
Learn More About Sleep Apnea & Airway Orthodontics
When it comes to identifying your child's specific issues and symptoms, you'll have many questions that need answering. By taking a non-invasive, whole-body, airway-focused approach to treatment, we may can determine which issues need correcting while looking beyond the teeth to the face, neck, tongue muscles, nose and throat and the rest of the body. We can assess the signs you've been noticing and discuss the benefits of early intervention for orthodontic issues, and address any concerns you may have.