Unhealthy or blocked airways are starting to be increasing linked to a range of dental and other developmental problems.
In the old days, tonsils and adenoids were routinely removed to avoid infection. With modern antibiotics, very few people have their adenoids or tonsils removed unless they have very severe occurrence of infection. This has possibly lead to too few tonsils being removed.
Now we are beginning to understand that blocked airways have much greater affects than previously thought.
To be precise, snoring itself isn’t such a problem. Of much greater concern is sleep apnoea in a child. Sleep apnoea is frequent blockages of the airway that breathing for more than 10 seconds during sleep. Basically, your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen while you sleep.
While sleep apnoea in adults has clear guidelines, in kids it’s a bit trickier to diagnose.
However, the number of things it may affect is startling.
Signs of sleep apnoea in a child.
While snoring may be a sign of sleep apnoea, other signs include;
- Pauses in breathing while asleep.
- Dark patches under eyes.
- Strange sleeping positions (tummy down, knees tucked under, head to side, bum in the air)
- Behavioural problems.
- Stunted growth.
- Disruptive behaviour in school.
Strange Sleeping Position
From a dental point of view, having blocked airways causes children to breath through their mouth. Since teeth position is the result of the cheeks, lips and tongue pushing on teeth, holding your mouth open all the time does strange things to the position of the teeth. It can cause the front teeth to go “bucky”, the jaws to become too narrow, and may even cause severe crookedness in some cases. The facial bones can develop differently affecting the appearance of the face.
Beyond this, sleep apnoea seems to cause children to grind their teeth with the result that their teeth wear out much faster than they should (this may continue into adulthood).
Even though it’s not yet certain, there is also some backing that sleep apnoea might cause lower IQ, be involved in some cases of ADHD and increase risks of heart disease.
While there are a range of causes of sleep apnoea in children (and even infants as young as 18 months) including obesity, the most common seems to be enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
How should it be treated?
Treatment should depend on the cause. For cases of obesity, obviously diet management and exercise are key.
For cases due to large tonsils, the treatment may vary depending on the severity. In most cases, a referral to an ENT surgeon will be necessary and removal of the tonsils may be carried out.
In some cases, a CPAP machine (thing that blows air into your nose or mouth while you sleep) will work. In others, an oral appliance made by your dentist will hold that jaw forward.
Like many developmental issues in kids, early diagnosis is the key. If you have concerns, talk to your dentist or ask for a referral to your local ENT surgeon.
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