A Dental Perspective on Sleep Apnea in Children

Our Dental Blog | Child Dentistry, Info & tips | 02.17.2021

Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep.

Dentists, orthodontists, and other oral-health professionals can play an important role not only in identifying children with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), but in its treatment as well, and a collaborative approach between oral-health professionals and medical doctors can result in better outcomes for these children.

How do you tell if your child is experiencing OSA? How can a dentist help? Let’s answer these questions today.

What is Sleep Apnea

The term sleep apnea is derived from the Greek etymology meaning “without breath”. Breathing pauses can last anywhere from several seconds to minutes and happen as often as 30 times or more per hour.

There are two main types of this disorder; central sleep apnea (CSA) which occurs when the brain fails to send important signals to the breathing muscles, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which occurs when air cannot flow through the nose or mouth even though the body is still trying to breathe. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more prevalent and easily treatable by the dentist.

It is estimated that 1 – 5% of children are affected by sleep apnea, according to Sick Kids Canada.

 How is Sleep Apnea Treated for Children?

There are various treatments that can be very effective, depending on the cause. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids can be surgically removed.

A therapy known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) involves the use of a machine that delivers mild air pressure through a mask worn during sleep to keep the airway open.

Dentistry also can also play a role in treatment. For younger children who are still growing, the use of an orthodontic appliance called a palatal expander has proven helpful in some cases.

A palatal expander gently widens the roof of the mouth (palate) over time by separating bones that don’t permanently fuse together until puberty. It’s most often used to create more room for crowded teeth, but the expansion can also increase airflow.

Older children who have stopped growing can sometimes benefit from Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT). This involves wearing a custom-made oral appliance designed to reposition the jaw during sleep so that the tongue is held away from the back of the throat, reducing the potential for obstruction.

The first step is to figure out what’s keeping your child from getting the restful sleep that’s so crucial to good health and well-being. For that to occur, and for your child to receive the best treatment, you will need to see a trained professional.

Getting the Right Help

Although it’s a sleep disorder, dentists treat sleep apnea after a specialist makes the diagnosis. If you have concerns or suspect that your child may be suffering from sleep apnea, our dentists will review their symptoms and make recommendations for further testing and treatment.

For more information about how to recognize the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea and the treatment options available for children, contact Treehouse Dental Care today to schedule your next appointment.

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