Do you hear your child gnashing or grinding teeth while sleeping? Gnashing or grinding teeth at night is common in children. However, grinding teeth (called bruxism) can point to a more serious complication: sleep apnea. Grinding teeth is our body’s way to keep the airway open at night when it is blocked. However, grinding can wear out your teeth, leading to chipped teeth and even jaw pain. It is therefore important to know what childhood sleep apnea is, and recognize the symptoms!
Childhood Sleep Apnea: What Is It?
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, one to ten percent of all American children have sleep apnea. It is a condition in which the natural flow of sleep is temporarily and frequently interrupted during the night. Obstructive sleep apnea, a common form of childhood sleep apnea, is caused by the obstruction of the upper airway during sleep. The body has an involuntary reaction to this lack of air and is jolted, allowing the muscles to contract again and open the airway. This temporary airway obstruction is just enough to interrupt your child’s sleep and can become intrusive when it happens repeatedly throughout the night.
Symptoms of Childhood Sleep Apnea
- Snoring or loud breathing during sleep
- Odd breathing patterns or periods of not breathing during sleep
- Restless sleep patterns or frequently awakening during the night
- Bed-wetting or enuresis
- Nightmares, difficulty waking up in the morning
- School problems, including some behavior problems, attention issues, and learning difficulties
- Gnashing and grinding teeth
Causes of Childhood Sleep Apnea
Childhood sleep apnea has a variety of causes. Issues with the tonsils and/or adenoids, childhood obesity, and teeth alignment can all manifest as sleep apnea. People commonly associate sleep apnea with enlarged tonsils or adenoids. In some cases, this is true; however it must be noted that not all children with enlarged tonsils or adenoids have sleep apnea. Children who are obese are five times more likely to develop childhood sleep apnea. Teeth misalignment has been found to cause sleep apnea in children as well. When the teeth are not aligned correctly, the tongue may rest in an improper position, blocking the airway periodically during sleep.
Treatment for Childhood Sleep Apnea Starts with a Visit to Your Chicago Dentist
The course of treatment will depend on the cause of the sleep apnea. Your Chicago dentist can help determine if your child may have a sleep breathing disorder. Currently Dr. Kelly is a consultant with Lurie Children's Hospital Pediatric Sleep Center. Making an appointment with your Chicago dentist is the first step to getting the sleep apnea treatment your child needs. He can recognize the sleep problems and direct you to the right network of doctors. Treatment options include: surgery to remove or alter tonsils or adenoids; diet and exercise; and orthodontic interventions to align the mouth and promote proper placement of the tongue. A sleep test may also be recommended.