If your child snores, something’s wrong, and your orthodontist may be able to help you figure out what it is.
When my daughter, Isabella, was a baby, she snored and occasionally gasped in her sleep—it was obvious she couldn’t get enough air. I took her to the doctor, who diagnosed her with obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder caused by a person’s airway collapsing while they sleep.
At age two, Isabella had surgery to remove her tonsils and adenoids in an effort to unblock the airway leading from her nose to her throat. She improved for a while, but then symptoms returned. As the years progressed, she began snoring again and gasping in her sleep, and she was constantly sick with a runny nose and watery eyes.
By age ten, she didn’t want to participate in sleepovers because she was embarrassed: classmates made fun of her snoring or said they couldn’t sleep next to her because she was so loud. She was sleep deprived, her schoolwork suffered, and she didn’t like to participate in activities that required exercise. I took her to the doctor and received various medications and nasal sprays, none of which seemed to make any difference. As Isabella moved into her teen years, her symptoms worsened and I dedicated myself to finding a solution.
As luck would have it, I had registered for a seminar as part of my professional continuing education, and one of the speakers shared information about sleep apnea, explaining that the adenoids could grow back if they were removed in young children. I started putting the pieces together and realized Isabella must have obstructive sleep apnea, again.
The adenoids are glands located in the roof of the mouth, behind the soft palate where the nose connects to the throat. When everything is functioning properly, adenoids trap germs coming in through the mouth and nose; however, when the adenoids are enlarged, they can prevent air from coming in as it should.
One of the best tools to begin diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea is three-dimensional radiography called a cone beam scan, used by most orthodontists. I had the very technology I needed right in my office to figure out whether Isabella’s adenoids were causing her trouble. When I looked at her test results, I was astounded to find that she was getting absolutely no air through her nasal passage; she had 100 percent blockage. This was not a problem medication could solve. She needed another adenoidectomy.
At age 15, she had the surgery, and her life improved instantly and dramatically. It’s been two years and she is a different kid. She’s almost never sick. She’s a straight-A student. She exercises. She’s alert and happy. And, she’s having the most amazing time experiencing the world through her newly discovered sense of smell.
As a parent and an orthodontist, I encourage you to be an advocate for your child’s health. Well-meaning, well-trained medical professionals do not know your child the way you do. If you feel like something’s wrong, trust your instincts. If your child’s symptoms don’t improve, insist on a new approach.
The classic symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Loud or frequent snoring
- Choking or gasping while you sleep
- Bedwetting (especially if a child previously stayed dry at night)
- Morning headaches
- Daytime sleepiness or tiredness
- Trouble concentrating
- Behavioral problems, sometimes diagnosed as attention deficit disorder
It breaks my heart to think of how long Isabella suffered unnecessarily, and I know she is not the only one. Fortunately, orthodontists who keep up with continuing education are now well versed in the symptoms related to obstructive sleep apnea, and we can alert you to the possibility that you may need to follow up with your child’s pediatrician or an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), so your child can get the treatment they need to enjoy life to the fullest.