Sleep apnoea and orthodontics

While snoring is common and (for the most part) quite harmless, severe snoring can be related to sleep apnoea, which can have serious side effects – especially for children.

Sleep apnoea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Obstructive sleep apnoea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax, occurs in 1-3 percent of snoring children* and peaks around the age of 2-4 years.

It’s important for parents to be aware of their child’s sleep and snoring patterns. The symptoms below don’t necessarily mean your child suffers from sleep apnoea, however it might be worth consulting an ENT specialist, allergist or sleep physician to discuss their symptoms. Your orthodontist is often the first person to identify airway and breathing problems in children and will also provide collaborative advice regarding treatment options and any necessary medical referrals.

Signs & symptoms of sleep apnoea in children

  • Loud snoring
  • Pauses in breathing / difficulty breathing during sleep
  • Choking, gasping or snorting
  • Restless sleep
  • Sleeping in unusual positions, for example propped up high on pillows
  • Mouth breathing
  • Teeth clenching / grinding
  • Morning headaches and fatigue
  • Poor appetite and problems with swallowing
  • Nightmares and bedwetting
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Difficulties with paying attention, behavioural problems and learning difficulties

Causes of childhood sleep apnoea

There are a number of possible causes of childhood sleep apnoea, including enlargement of the tonsils in the back of the throat and the adenoids in the back of the nose. The good news is that having the tonsils and adenoids taken out cures sleep apnoea in up to 90% of children.

Childhood obesity and long-term allergy or hay fever can also play a part, and children with certain medical conditions associated with weak muscles or low muscle tone (such as Down syndrome) are also more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea.

I think my child suffers from sleep apnoea – now what?

First and foremost, sleep apnoea is a medical condition and therefore needs to be properly diagnosed by an ENT (ear, nose & throat) specialist or sleep physician. Once the diagnosis has been made, treatment depends on what is causing the problem and how serious it is.

Orthodontists are well equipped to provide treatment as part of a multi-disciplinary team for patients with sleep apnoea due to their specialist education in facial growth and development.

In some cases, early orthodontic treatment to expand the upper jaw and eliminate habits can help improve breathing patterns and reduce sleep apnoea risk.

Orthodontists will work alongside the sleep physician and other specialists to ensure the best outcome for the patient. To book a consultation with a specialist orthodontist today, use our ‘Find an Orthodontist’ online tool.

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