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Sleep apnoea and orthodontics

June 7, 2021
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 your medical GP. From there an onward referral to an ENT specialist, allergist or sleep physician may be indicated for further investigation. 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.


Potential 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.

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 are also more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea.


Can orthodontics cause sleep apnoea?

Orthodontic treatment doesn’t cause sleep apnoea, however, certain skeletal jaw relationships may be potential risk factors. If you’re concerned that your child is suffering from an orthodontic issue that may be affecting their sleep, it’s best to book a consult with an orthodontist as soon as possible. Additional medical advice is also recommended from your medical GP.

How can bite problems contribute sleep apnoea?

Patients may present with their upper front teeth “sticking out”. If the individual patient also has a very recessive lower jaw, this can be a risk factor for sleep apnoea (as the airway size might be smaller). Further medical investigation may be required for accurate diagnosis.

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

First and foremost, sleep apnoea is a medical condition 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 coordinated 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 online tool.

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