Sleep apnea has become one of the most serious health crises facing America. In addition to its strong contribution to cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders, it contributes to serious accident risk for operators of cars, trucks, trains, and planes. Increasingly, this is a problem that begins in childhood and can affect them for life.

Dr. Michael Firouzian was asked to comment on childhood sleep disordered breathing by Wellness Wednesday on WOSU radio, Columbus’ NPR station.

Watching for Warning Signs

Dr. Firouzian encourages parents to watch children for signs of sleep disordered breathing. When children experience this difficulty, they may show:

  • Daytime tiredness
  • Moodiness, depression, or aggressive behavior
  • Problems at school
  • Bedwetting
  • Chronic allergies
  • Swollen adenoids and/or tonsils
  • Frequent illness
  • Stunted growth
  • Nightmares
  • Night sweats
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism)
  • Dark circles under the eyes

When children experience these symptoms, it’s recommended that parents talk to a dentist or doctor about the issue of sleep disordered breathing.

It’s also recommended that parents observe their children sleeping to make sure the child is sleeping properly and breathing easily. If the child is sleeping restlessly, grinding teeth, breathing through the mouth, has an unusual sleep position, or showing other signs of having difficulty sleeping, they should seek treatment.

A Developmental Problem

Sleep disordered breathing is a problem that affects a child for life. It can begin even before a child is born, and can grow along with them.

One important aspect of assessing your child’s risk is considering whether parents or grandparents had sleep disordered breathing. Snoring is the most visible sign of this type of problem, although parents might have been diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Next, it’s important to consider whether children were breastfed or bottle fed. The two types of feeding require different tongue positions, and they can contribute to the habitual tongue position children have as they grow. The position of the tongue is a crucial influence on the development of the mouth. When a child is breastfed, they develop a healthy habit of holding their tongue at the roof of their mouth most of the time. This stimulates the development of the upper jaw, which is also the floor of the nasal cavity. Bottle feeding, on the other hand, encourages a tongue position lower in the mouth, which doesn’t stimulate the development of the upper palate and can lead to a narrower airway.

The process can be accelerated by allergies, which cause swelling of the tonsils and/or adenoids. This narrows the nasal passage and can lead to mouth breathing. Mouth breathing also keeps the tongue off the roof of the mouth.

Treatments for Sleep Disordered Breathing in Children

In treating this issue, parents should talk to their doctor about the possibility that tonsils and/or adenoids may be the problem. Surgery can remove problematic tonsils and adenoids to open up the airway.

If the problem is the arch development and/or tongue position, Healthy Start is a great option for this. It retrains the tongue to stay in a proper position at night, encouraging the development of the upper palate and airway. It also pushes to help the airway expand.

An expanded airway can eliminate sleep disordered breathing. And when the breathing problem goes away, so will many of the symptoms.

If you know or suspect that your child may be experiencing problems breathing during sleep, please call (614) 848-5001 today for an appointment with Columbus, Ohio dentist Dr. Firouzian.