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Preventing Sleep Apnea in Children
by Sherry Regiani

Preventing Sleep Apnea in Children, Image courtesy Regiani Holistic Dental Center
Image courtesy Regiani Holistic Dental Center

It’s holiday time. Lots of jokes about how Uncle Joe falls asleep after dinner and snores. Sometimes he seems to stop breathing for a moment and then almost gasps as he snorts. Everyone laughs and turns up the TV. Sound familiar?
What if we rolled back the clock to meet Joe when he was a kid? Did he snore then?

Likely so. Adults with sleep disorders like sleep apnea start as children with breathing disorders. Did you know early intervention can lessen, and even prevent, these problems later in life?

Here’s what parents need to know:
If, as an adult, we go out and party late one night, we might be off our game the next morning. We might be crabby. We might go to bed earlier the following night to make up for it.

A child who doesn’t get a good night sleep doesn’t know there is a difference. Maybe they snored as a toddler, and it looked kind of cute. These children are tired, and they’re often crabby. A teacher might tell you your child doesn’t pay attention and misbehaves. A sitter might tell you the same thing. You tell your child to play nice with the other kids, but what does that mean?

Symptoms of
Sleep Disordered Breathing
• Academic Challenges
• Arrested Growth
• Underdeveloped Jaw
• Bedwetting
• Chronic Allergies
• Crowded Teeth
• Aggressive Behavior
• Depression
• Mouth Breathing
• Sleep Apnea
• Snoring
• Nightmares
• Inability to Focus

A child who sucks their thumb or fingers pushes the front teeth forward which narrows their upper jaw. Some children will talk with a lisp or cannot form certain letter sounds, some will create a cross-bite. The muscles in the tongue are unable to do their job of widening the upper palate. Dental braces (orthodontics) are often recommended when the child gets older to give a more pleasing esthetic look. This does nothing to correct breathing.

Children with a compromised airway leading to sleep disordered breathing do not know they can’t oxygenate well. They need help and intervention. This is where a trained dental team comes in. After all, looking into a mouth is what they do all day!

There are two major routes to help correct esthetics and breathing well before the child needs braces: The Healthy Start® and Oral-MyoFunctional Therapy. Sometimes one is more appropriate than another, or both are needed. Sometimes there are physical limitations (lip or tongue ties) that need to be addressed, too, before treatment can continue.

Wearing removable orthotics, The HealthyStart® System opens the airway by bringing the upper and lower jaws forward, allowing for maximum airflow while encouraging nasal breathing and ensuring that children are able to live happy and healthy lives.

Oral-MyoFunctional Therapy is like physical therapy to strengthen lips and tongue muscles and keep the teeth in their proper position. You did know the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body, right? Once strengthened, there is often no relapse. This means in many cases there are no braces, and no retainers needed. The child grows to his or her genetic potential with a fully developed airway. No more snoring like Uncle Joe.

Sherry Regiani, SHRM-CP, is Administrative Director at Regiani Holistic Dental Center in Clarkston, MI. For more information call 248-625-5222, visit their website: RegianiDental.com.  

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