Written by Dr. Jill Ombrello, Pediatric Dental Sleep Specialist
Have you ever experienced a health condition that made breathing a burden? Imagine that before a run, you are forced to place a straw between your lips, lessening your breathing capacity by over 50 percent. That would be fairly difficult, no? (You don’t have to answer that – that was just one of those fancy rhetorical questions to get you thinking.)
Here’s another one: Do you find it shocking that millions of children worldwide are walking around every day with this suboptimal breathing condition and their parents have no idea?
Now go one step further, imagine that you have difficulty breathing while you sleep, so much so that your own body would jolt itself awake a few times every hour as your body gasps for air in an attempt to fill your lungs. Even if you would wake up not remembering these forceful fits of breathing throughout the night, your body will still feel its effects: complete exhaustion, irritability, aggression, anxiety, etc. This could be happening to your child as they sleep.
There is a silent epidemic that affects 9 out of every 10 children that causes this to happen and, oftentimes, the signs and symptoms associated with this condition are ignored, disregarded as being “just a phase,” or misdiagnosed as a different disorder.
This epidemic, known as sleep disordered breathing, causes a great deal of discomfort and unhealthy symptoms for these children. Research has shown that the chronic suffering of these symptoms can also lead to comorbidity diagnoses such as behavioral issues, ADD/ADHD, depression, and allergies.
Despite its prominence in younger children, many parents have never heard of sleep disordered breathing, nor are they cognizant of its side effects, which can easily be mistaken for common developmental problems in children. I talk about this condition with such urgency not because I’m an alarmist, but, instead, because I feel I have a duty to educate parents and help these children. I’m very enthusiastic about partnering with many of these families who have been running in circles trying to get opinions and treatment that don’t even address the root cause of their children’s issues. And I know that for each day that goes by for these kids, their condition worsens, their potential growth and development is diminished, and the window of time narrows to treat them conservatively.
This is why I have dedicated my time to raising awareness for sleep disordered breathing.
I strive to educate patients and treat these symptoms at an early age, before much of a child’s growth and develop is compromised and while the condition is the easiest to treat. I am compelled to empower parents to seek out the appropriate experts and get a full evaluation for each of their children. The best case scenario is that your child is in perfect health. The next best case scenario is that a young child (2-4 years old) comes in showing the early signs of this condition, and we are able to catch sleep disordered breathing early. This means that we can get everything back on track for ideal development as straightforward and quickly as possible.
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My harder conversations come when an untreated teen comes in. Because they are near the later stages and have already undergone the majority of their growth and development (i.e. right before, during, or anytime after puberty) and their condition is more severe, we have to use more invasive and aggressive treatment to fix their oral and airway issues. Even worse, these kids have typically been on medications they didn’t even need – or they’ve experienced behavioral issues or difficulty in school – all because this evaluation had never been performed and the condition was not caught in early development. These children or teens still receive my help, but I just wish I could have gotten to them earlier. The research is there. Sleep disordered breathing is a huge, avoidable problem, but parents have to bring their kids in to see the right providers as early as possible.
I am more than happy to continue this conversation for any parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or neighbor interested in learning more about sleep disordered breathing. If you are in the Aptos, Santa Cruz, Capitola, Watsonville or any surrounding areas, contact our office for more information or to make an appointment for a free consultation and discussion on how your child can be treated with a comprehensive, conservative non-pharmacotherapy solution. If you are not in our area, you can read more on www.thehealthystart.com website or you feel free to contact the Drew Dental team today with your questions.
What is Sleep Disordered Breathing?
How many of us had braces or even extractions as children to correct our crooked or crowded mouths? Unfortunately, what we didn’t know then is that those crooked teeth can indicate a much larger underlying problem: an underdeveloped airway.
A shocking 9 in 10 children suffer from the symptoms of Sleep Disordered Breathing, and many parents simply aren’t told what to look for to recognize the true cause.
So what exactly is Sleep Disordered Breathing?
Sleep disordered breathing is simply a lack of oxygen during sleep. When your child’s teeth, jaw, and airway are poorly developed, the airway can often become narrow and constricted so that in his or her most relaxed and vulnerable moments — sleep — they aren’t able to breathe properly.
It’s not hard to imagine why this can lead to all sorts of problems for your child. A lack of oxygen means that your child isn’t getting the deep, restful sleep they need to learn, grow, and play healthily all day, nor are they getting what they need for optimal brain function and immune strength.
What are the Symptoms?
One of the greatest dangers of Sleep Disordered Breathing is that the negative effects (lack of oxygen and sleep) are so elemental to our children’s bodies that it produces a huge range of varied and often vague symptoms.
Sleep Disordered Breathing can cause snoring, mouth breathing, dark circles under the eyes, nightmares, and fatigue. But it can also manifest in non-sleep related symptoms, such as persistent allergies (worsened by mouth breathing and an inflamed throat), headaches, and bedwetting. Many children also experience behavioral issues such as ADD/ADHD, anxiety, depression, aggression, and even bad grades in areas like spelling, math and science.
Each child reacts differently, and all too often these harmful symptoms aren’t recognized for what they are. Misdiagnosis can carry heavy consequences such as the incorrect and unnecessary use of prescription medication, medication that can’t treat the root cause of your child’s distress.
It pays to watch carefully and be vigilant if your child displays any of the symptoms of Sleep Disordered Breathing. When it comes to your child’s health, don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion.
How Do I Know If My Child Has Sleep Disordered Breathing?
When the symptoms are so difficult to recognize, it’s important to watch for the telltale signs of Sleep Disordered Breathing. Even mild cases, often identifiable by crooked or crowded teeth, can see huge benefits with a little help from your dentist. Watch for clues that your child isn’t sleeping like the proverbial baby. Is he snoring regularly? Does she snort or gasp in her sleep? Does he seem restless or fitful in bed? These are likely signs that your child is struggling to breath. Time to make an appointment with a certified Healthy Start provider or dentist.
What is Healthy Start?
Healthy Start is designed to work alongside the natural movement of your growing child’s body to bring the upper and lower jaws forward, allowing the airway to widen and allow healthy oxygen flow.
The best part? It’s not just a treatment — it’s actually a cure. The system uses a series of soft, comfortable, removable mouthpieces to guide your child’s teeth into proper alignment and gently promote good jaw and airway development. Because your child is young and still growing, this painless process will set as your child grows and, unlike the results of braces, become their permanent adult alignment: a beautiful, straight smile and a healthy, open airway for the rest of their lives without relapse.
Is Healthy Start Right for My Child?
Choosing any medical intervention for your child is a big decision, and you’re right to take it seriously. Luckily, Healthy Start makes the decision easier because it is completely safe and natural, working with your child’s natural growth instead of against it. Unlike many other symptom based treatments, the process is entirely non-invasive and non-pharmaceutical.
Healthy Start is nearly half the cost of braces, and much, much more comfortable. Early intervention can be the key to your child’s happy and healthy development.
If you think there’s any chance your child may benefit from a healthier start, please call our office to schedule a consultation.