“Don’t Ignore the Snore” – Sleep Apnea in Children and Adults

Sleep apnea is a serious, chronic disease that involves snoring and repeated stops in breathing while sleeping. It can occur in both children and adults. In adults, sleep apnea results in excessive daytime sleepiness and can lead to serious health issues, such as heart problems, obesity, and high blood pressure. In children, sleep apnea, or interrupted sleep, manifests itself in hyperactive behavior and lack of focus. It is often misdiagnosed as ADD/ ADHD. An orthodontist can screen for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) by examining facial growth and development to identify any underlying dentofacial issues that may be contributing to the apnea. An orthodontist can provide alternative treatment to a CPAP to address OSA with an oral sleep device, orthodontic treatment, or a combination of both.

In both children and adults, snoring can be an initial indication of obstructive sleep apnea. Snoring occurs when the jaw opens, and the tongue falls to the back of the throat causing the airway to become constricted. This can reduce airflow to the lungs and brain, putting stress on the entire body, particularly the heart. The reduction in oxygen causes partial awakening in a person – creating a cycle of interrupted sleep. This cycle of chronic lack of sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, depression, memory loss, high blood pressure, obesity, and other serious health issues. Other indications of possible sleep apnea in adults are gasping for air during sleep, awakening with a dry mouth, a morning headache, and difficulty concentrating.

While excessive daytime sleepiness is a possible indicator of OSA in adults, obstructive sleep apnea looks different in children. A child with OSA may have the following symptoms: not awakening refreshed, teeth grinding, mouth breathing, bed wetting and night terrors, poor attention span and difficulty concentrating, behavioral issues and poor performance in school, and/ or hyperactivity, which is often misdiagnosed as ADD/ ADHD.

Obstructive sleep apnea is treatable and often involves a multi-disciplinary treatment plan. An orthodontic specialist can help evaluate, plan, and coordinate care. At Morgan Orthodontics, a 3D iCAT scan is taken to evaluate airway constriction and air volume. Dentofacial development is also examined to determine jaw position and constriction that may be contributing to OSA. When indicated, a sleep study will be requested to determine the degree or severity of the sleep apnea. In some cases, a consultation with a pulmonologist or ENT may be recommended.

To alleviate sleep apnea in adults, an orthodontist can provide a custom, oral device that is worn while sleeping. The appliance brings the lower jaw forward and opens the constricted airway reducing or eliminating pauses in breathing. Oral sleep devices are an alternative treatment to a CPAP for adults experiencing mild to moderate OSA. In more severe cases, an oral sleep device can be used in conjunction with a CPAP to reduce the level of airflow pressure required to open the airway. To permanently correct sleep apnea, orthodontic treatment may be indicated.

Sleep apnea in children is often corrected with early, orthodontic treatment. This treatment may involve a palatal expander that gently increases the size of the upper jaw, allowing more room for the tongue and reducing constriction. Evaluations by an orthodontic specialist are recommended beginning at age 7. These evaluations focus on jaw growth and development that may be related to emerging dental issues, as well as potential sleep issues.

Dr. Kelly Morgan is a Harvard-trained orthodontic specialist who takes a whole-body wellness approach to orthodontics. Morgan Orthodontics is known for their friendliness and professionalism, treating each patient like family with genuine care and understanding.

For more information, visit our Leesburg or Winchester office or call today.