Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Your Child

Birmingham AL DentistDerived from the Greek word meaning “without wind,” apnea refers to a period of time when someone stops breathing during sleep. When sleep apnea occurs as a result of something blocking the airway, it is known as obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. While OSA is a common condition in children, it is dangerous, because it deprives children of the restful sleep needed to thrive, not to mention the impact it has on learning and growth. Though less common, obstructive sleep apnea in children can also lead to heart conditions and even death. A discussion of obstructive sleep apnea and your child is below.

While sleeping, muscles in the upper extremities, including the throat and neck relax. Yet, in the case of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), throat tissues over-relax, causes them to collapse. Thus, the collapsed tissues obstruct the airway, and breathing is impaired. Yet, for cases of OSA in children, the most common culprits are enlarged tonsils or adenoids. When breathing is interrupted, the oxygen levels decrease, which sends a signal to the brain to wake the person up (in an effort to normalize breathing). While this may occur without the person knowing it, if this happens all throughout the night, the individual is prevented from engaging in restful, deep sleep.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea in children may present in the following ways:

  • Snoring (including gasps, snorts, or pauses in breathing)
  • Restless sleep
  • Heavy breathing
  • Sleeping in strange positions
  • Bedwetting
  • Daytime drowsiness

Because OSA makes it difficult for children to obtain restful sleep, problems focusing and maintaining attention soon follow, which often causes children to experience frustration with schoolwork or other activities. In fact, some may wonder if the child has an attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD) due to changing behavior or learning disability.

For parents who are unsure if their child is suffering from OSA, it’s important to discuss concerns with their doctor and dentist. While children may undergo a sleep study to monitor oxygen levels and test for periods of sleep apnea, dentists provide invaluable insight into the oral manifestations of sleep apnea with symptoms such as worn or fractured teeth and teeth grinding or clenching.

At Vital Smiles, we believe that your child’s oral health is not only important—it is of vital importance. Therefore, if you notice that your child is having a hard time waking up in the morning, experiencing sleepiness during the day, or struggling with behavior and attention, it’s a good idea to contact us. As experienced dental specialists that work with children each day, we are fully equipped to examine your child’s teeth to determine if there is evidence of obstructive sleep apnea.

Posted on behalf of Vital Smiles

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