Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition that can cause loud snoring and extended breathing pauses during sleep, and it’s more common in children than you might think. In fact, it has been estimated that between one and four percent of children have sleep apnea. The condition can cause a child to be exhausted during waking hours, and potentially lead to behavioral problems or even a misdiagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, simply due to the fact that sleep apnea is making them too tired to function normally. Here at Fulbright Cosmetic & Reconstructive Dentistry, our experienced dentist can help to identify whether your child is suffering from sleep apnea. If that is the case, Dr. Michael Fulbright offers advanced treatment options to help them attain a safer, healthier night’s sleep.
Symptoms and Risks of Sleep Apnea in Children
Just as in adults, sleep apnea can be the cause of serious health risks – including high blood pressure and sudden cardiac death – as well as a number of debilitating symptoms. Knowing what to look for is extremely important. Some of the symptoms and risks of sleep apnea in children include:
- Loud snoring, choking, or gasping during sleep
- Pauses while breathing of 10 to 20 seconds or longer
- Tossing and turning; excessive mouth breathing during sleep
- Tiredness during the day
- Night sweats
- Trouble concentrating
- Behavioral problems
- Mood swings
Symptoms such as bedwetting, hormonal imbalances, and growth problems may also be linked to sleep apnea.
If you suspect your child may have sleep apnea, it is vital to have them examined as soon as possible. There are a number of treatments that can help clear the airways and reduce risks to your child’s health. Please visit our website dedicated to sleep apnea and snoring for more information on pediatric sleep apnea.
Causes of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is typically caused by a blockage of oral and/or nasal passages. In some children, oral structures such as the mandible or maxilla are underdeveloped, which can ultimately push the jaw back and close the airways during sleep. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids can also lead to airway obstruction. Some studies have shown a link between obesity and pediatric sleep disorders, and heredity may be a factor as well. Children who have an enlarged tongue, a small jaw, less muscle tone, and those who are around tobacco smoke may also be at higher risk for sleep apnea.
Treatment Options for Pediatric Sleep Apnea
A thorough evaluation can help determine whether structural problems in the oral cavities may indicate the potential for sleep apnea in children. Dr. Fulbright can also help diagnose your child with a polysomnogram, which is a painless series of tests that can be performed overnight. If your child is diagnosed with sleep apnea, Dr. Fulbright has found an oral appliance known as a palate expander to be one of the most effective treatments. This simple technique utilizes a removable appliance designed to expand the hard palate over a period of time, which can open the airway and significantly reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea. In some cases, children may need surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids to eliminate potential airway blockages. Those procedures are extraordinarily common ones among children, and can dramatically reduce sleep apnea conditions in some cases.
The HealthyStart™ System of Removable Oral Devices is another advanced treatment option for pediatric sleep apnea available at our practice. HealthyStart™ is a treatment program that utilizes three different types of removable oral appliances in three separate stages. This process can be ideal for children who have signs of disordered breathing and who could benefit from early orthodontic/orthopedic treatment. The HealthyStart™system’s oral appliances are made of a soft, clear plastic material and are custom-designed to provide a comfortable fit and gradual correction of your child’s orthodontic concerns. This treatment can be used to improve lower jaw development, expand the dental arches to ensure incoming teeth have room to grow, improve breathing by enlarging the airway, and help create better alignment for the first set of four permanent teeth once they come in. HeathyStart™ appliances can be worn throughout the night. Once treatment goals have been achieved with the first appliance, the next appliance will be worn. The treatment is complete once ideal results have been attained with the third and final HealthyStart™ appliance.
There are numerous treatments for sleep apnea, and the option that is right for your child will depend on his or her unique needs. Dr. Fulbright will perform a comprehensive examination and talk with you about all aspects of sleep apnea treatment before determining the best course of action for your child.
We can help your child achieve a better night’s sleep and reduce many of the physical and emotional effects that sleep apnea can cause. If you would like more information, or if you would like to schedule an appointment here at Fulbright Cosmetic & Reconstructive Dentistry, please contact us today.