Up to 15-percent of children have some type of sleep disordered breathing (SDB), which may include obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and new research indicates that 90-percent go undiagnosed because symptoms are attributed to psychological or emotional issues.
Sleep apnea and related conditions can cause lasting damage to brain development during crucial years. As a result, children with undiagnosed SDB have been reported to use health care 226 percent more than the general population.
“Children who have behavior problems or are suspected to have ADHD might actually be suffering from a chronic lack of restorative sleep,” says John White, DDS, coauthor on this study.
Researchers explain that neurocognitive development, cellular regeneration, and tissue and bone growth all occur during the deep sleep stage. However, when breathing is obstructed in the upper airway, the brain switches back from deep to light sleep in order to resume normal breathing–barring the mind and body from critical restorative processes.
Symptoms in children include snoring, restless sleep, excessive sleepiness, teeth grinding and jaw clenching, migraines, bed-wetting, and irritability. White says that dentists are often able to screen for the problem.
“A lot of airway problems come from poor jaw structure,” says White. “And the tongue is crucial in shaping the mouth, jaw and nasal cavity. Once we identify sleep apnea, treatment is usually very effective. The challenge is catching it early enough.”