We realize that we tend to primarily address the adult population in many of our blog posts, so we’d like to take the opportunity to focus on the younger generations. A topic that has been quite prevalent in the world of dentistry as of late is that of airway and sleep issues in children. What does this mean? It can refer to tongue ties, issues with tonsils / adenoids, or any other obstacle that makes it difficult for kids to breathe properly and, therefore, experience poor sleep and even endure behavior challenges due to lack of quality sleep.
Let’s take a closer look:
Tongue ties are correlated with issues that can contribute to severe sleep apnea; this includes habitual mouth breathing. If your child experiences long-term mouth breathing, it can cause trauma to the back of the throat, particularly the tonsils. The tonsils may become enlarged and, as a result, partially block the airway during sleep.
Tonsils / Adenoids
It’s fairly common for children to have enlarged tonsils or adenoids. When a child has an enlarged tonsil or adenoid, it makes their airways narrower. This causes them to snore as well as to stop breathing for short periods of time while sleeping. If their sleep is affected over the long term, it can lead to various problems and potentially to medical conditions. If your child reports that s/he is or you have noticed that your child is experiencing the aforementioned symptoms as well as the symptoms noted below, they may have enlarged tonsils / adenoids:
- Breathing mainly through the mouth or strained breathing
- Restless sleep, waking frequently, or sleeping in an unusual position
- Trouble swallowing
- Frequent colds
It’s generally unclear as to what causes this enlargement, but the consequences can be quite severe depending upon the severity. Effects or problems may include:
- Respiratory tract infections
- Middle ear infections and glue ear (the latter can lead to hearing & speech problems)
- Jaw misalignment, open bite and altered position of the tongue
- Severe, long-term sleep apnea that can affect a child’s physical development and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease
Your child’s dentist may be instrumental in identifying enlarged tonsils during a routine checkup as your doctor will be examining jaw alignment & bite, among other factors. A child with enlarged tonsils will typically be referred to an ENT for further diagnosis.
Bruxism, or teeth grinding and/or jaw clenching, can also impact airways and sleep quality. According to the NCBI, “as muscles of the body relax during sleep, the tethered tongue, resting low in the mouth, can fall backward and obstruct the airway, causing difficulty in breathing.”
What does this actually mean? Our brains respond by sending signals to the jaw that instruct it to slide forward, which opens the airway to allow air into the body. However, this sliding action causes intense grinding of tooth surfaces. Moreover, airway-related bruxism can lead to:
- Loss of tooth structure
- Cracks in teeth
- Loss of tooth mobility
- Bone loss, pain, and early tooth loss
If your child has expressed difficulty with breathing, sleeping or grinding, we urge you to take it seriously. Oftentimes, the underlying issues are more complex than what your child is able to express. If you have any questions about airway issues, please do not hesitate to contact us!