You may be familiar with adult sleep apnea—but did you know that sleep-disordered breathing can also affect kids?

While sleep apnea occurs less in children than it does in adults, it’s still a cause for concern. About 5% of kids suffer from sleep apnea, and these children can be at risk of having behavioral, adaptive, and learning problems. In fact, many of the daytime symptoms of poor sleep caused by sleep apnea are often mistaken for ADHD, including poor focus and concentration and difficulty with learning.

This can lead to misdiagnosis. As many as 25% of children diagnosed with ADHD may actually instead be suffering from sleep disturbance.

One study conducted at the University of Arizona in Tucson showed that the odds of behavioral problems were 4-5 times higher in kids with incident sleep apnea and 6 times higher children with persistent sleep apnea.

What’s more, when a child is experiencing sleep apnea, they may experience a drop in oxygen levels at night. This can prevent them from entering a deep, restorative sleep state, resulting in poor growth hormones.

What Causes Sleep Apnea in Children?

The most common cause of pediatric sleep apnea is enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, which are the glands located in the roof of the mouth.

At night, the muscles of the body relax, which allows the tonsils and adenoids to further restrict airflow in the upper respiratory system, causing sleep apnea disturbances. Sleep apnea has also been linked to childhood obesity.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

If you suspect that your child may have a sleep disturbance, following are some symptoms to watch for. Some of these signs can be observed while your child sleeps, while others may manifest during the daytime.

  • About 10% of children who snore have sleep apnea.
  • Children with enlarged adenoids tend to breath with their mouths open.
  • Your child may have pauses in breathing during sleep.
  • You may notice your child grinding their teeth at night in an attempt to keep the airway open.
  • Your child seems sleepy during the day or wakes up with a headache.
  • Your child has a poor attention span or has difficulty concentrating on school or homework.
  • You’re noticing behavioral issues and poor performance at school.

How Dental Screenings Can Help Diagnose and Treat Pediatric Sleep Apnea

As your child’s dentist, we look for clues that your child may be suffering from sleep apnea. Routine dental visits are key in diagnosing and helping treat this sleep problem.

We will check to see if your child’s tonsils or adenoids are enlarged, and for signs of teeth grinding. If we believe your child may suffer from sleep apnea, we can work with your pediatrician to confirm and treat the diagnosis.

In many cases, we can offer a dental appliance or mouthpiece as a non-surgical solution. Early orthodontic intervention can also be helpful if teeth are crowded; creating an expansion can help keep your child’s tongue in the correct position as they grow.

Surgical options may include removing the enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

Schedule an Appointment

If you are in the Gladstone, Oregon City or Canby, Oregon area and your child is showing signs of a sleep apnea problem, give us a call at Gladstone Family Dentistry. We’ll be happy to help you diagnose and treat the problem so your child can get the rest they need!

Give our office a call at (503) 657-3077 to schedule an appointment.