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Can Children Really Develop Sleep Apnea?

Posted on February 3, 2011 | in Sleep Apnea | by

Not getting enough sleep is a problem most of us can identify with.

Daily responsibilities, stress, sleeping habits, and even too much caffeine, all negatively impact how restful our nighttime slumber actually is.

But how about our kids?

We figure if they’re in bed on time and up and out on time, then all is well.

As information from research that began years ago begins to come into focus, we are learning how our twice yearly trip to the dentist can not only improve our smile, but it can actually improve our sleeping habits too.

At the recent Rocky Mountain Dental Convention, Dr. Dennis Bailey – a practicing dentist in Colorado dentist with over 25 years of experience in the use of oral appliances to manage snoring and sleep apnea – discussed how nighttime mouth-breathing is negatively impacting not only the quality of our children’s sleep, but also contributing to more serious developmental difficulties.

Nighttime mouth breathing stands as the most problematic, Dr. Bailey said, because it contributes to difficulties such as neurocognitive development, enuresis (bedwetting), poor academic performance, and alterations in craniofacial growth[1].

Dr. Bailey goes on the mention, “What you’re going to find out is that if you breathe through your mouth, all bets are off,” he told his audience.

“Breathing during the day is not the same as it is at night. That goes for children, adolescents, adults, and infants. I cannot stress to you enough how deleterious and how damaging mouth breathing is.”

Why is it so dangerous?

“Because the nose is the body’s carburetor,” Dr. Bailey said. “Every one of us in this world has brains that require more oxygen at night than they do during the day. If you don’t get that oxygen to the brain during the nighttime, what happens is that a host of neurochemicals are not being produced properly by the brain. It leads to depression, it leads to developmental problems, and it leads to things like ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder].”

According to Dr. Bailey, here are some signs of sleep deprivation in our kids we can look for; reduced attention span, sleepiness, and even snoring.

The doctor stresses parents to look for these signs, “Find out if that child or adolescent is a mouth breather at night, and if they are a mouth breather at night, start looking for causes, such as allergies, nasal airway obstructions, or enlarged tonsils.”

“Do they have headaches? Pain? Ear and throat infections? Is their growth and development not on par? Do they have narrow dental arches? High palettes? Malocclusions?” he said. “All of these things are foreboding signs that that child is at risk for a sleep breathing disorder because these are the outcomes that can occur.”

If you have any questions about treating sleep apnea, or how your child’s next dental visit can help improve their sleep – and overall health, be sure to ask your dentist before your next appointment.


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+Chris Barnard is Managing Editor of, a patient-centric Social Dental Network blog dedicated to enabling the digital dental health conversation - and the eradication of the cavity creeps.
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