Pediatric Airway Development

While obstructive sleep apnea has previously been considered an adult affliction, children can also suffer from this condition – estimated that from 1.2% to 5.7% of children are affected.(1) More commonly, children suffer from upper airway resistance syndrome, the precursor to obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep is crucial for a healthy childhood, and any sleep disruption for kids can be the cause of several behavioral and physical health issues. At Fairchance Dental Arts, we work to identify the root causes of sleep-disordered breathing and how to best treat it.

Is It Sleep Apnea or ADHD?

Obstructive sleep apnea in children is sometimes misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD or chronic fatigue syndrome because the results of the poor quality of sleep can mimic the behavioral symptoms. If your child has trouble learning, sitting still, or behaving, it may be caused by sleep deprivation. Any ADHD diagnosis should include an airway screening.

Signs and Symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing in children include:

  • Teeth grinding
  • Loud snoring, often with pauses, snorts, or gasps
  • Daytime sleepiness or irritability
  • Hyperactivity or trouble focusing
  • Behavioral problems or poor impulse control
  • Sleep walking or night terrors
  • Delayed bed wetting
  • Acid reflux
  • Restless leg syndrome.
  • Overbite or crowding of the teeth.
  • Some anxiety or attention disorders

Facts and Figures of Sleep-Disordered Breathing (SDB)

  • SDB is associated with 40-60% more behavioral difficulties between the ages of 4-7 years old.
  • If left untreated, sleep disorders usually start out as loud, heavy mouth breathing then progress to snoring and then to obstructive sleep apnea.
  • SDB can cause a myriad of issues: an increased prevalence of decay, crowding of the permanent dentition, behavioral issues, deficient lower jaw growth, increased prevalence of ear infections, or chronic sinusitis.
  • If a child is changing how they hold their jaw to function/chew/breathe better then they will grow to that dysfunction.
  • Untreated tongue ties contribute to sleep apnea and poor breathing.
  • Sleep disorders account for some level of behavior dysregulation.(2)
  • Hyperactivity may be a compensatory mechanism to maintain vigilance or wakefulness.(3)
  • Snoring and teeth grinding are not normal and kids may not grow out of it without treatment.
  • 90% of a child’s brain is developed by age five, so any sleep-disordered breathing issues need to be treated as early as possible to eliminate the negative effects and to stop the progression into severe sleep apnea.

How a Dentist Can Help

There are many factors that can cause sleep-disordered breathing in a child, such as a higher arch, enlarged tonsils and adenoids, or other malformations in their mouth. Fairchance Dental Arts will be able to diagnose and prescribe the right therapeutic approach and treatment plan for each child.

We utilize several screening tools to properly diagnose a child’s breathing disorder:

  • A Thorough Clinical Exam
  • Digital X-Rays
  • 3D Cone Beam Computed Tomography
  • iTero digital scanner
  • Synergy Z-Machine Home Sleep Test

We have multiple ways to treat children suffering from sleep-related disorders:

  • Myo Munchee – a chewing device that is designed to help breathing, sleeping, and overall health in younger patients.
  • Orthopedic appliances – we offer two types: non-removable appliances, and removable appliances; each worn for several months to improve the airway for a lifetime.
  • The recommendation for removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids.

Differences in Adults and Children

The treatment for SDB in children is different than in adults because there are a number of developmental characteristics that distinguish the pediatric airway from the adult airway. Up until puberty, children’s faces and airways are malleable, meaning we can change the way they grow. In adults, we can treat symptoms and improve their quality of life, but in children we can guide their growth into happier and healthier airways as adults.

Sleep disorders manifest differently in adults than it does in children as well. While adults are more likely to exhibit daytime sleepiness and fatigue, children are more likely to show behavioral issues such as difficulty concentrating and hyperactivity. That’s why you need an expert like us in pediatric airway development and sleep disorders in children specifically. We design the treatment around the individual and their situation.

The Right Diagnosis for Your Child

If you have a child that’s suffering from any of the above symptoms, especially if they’re displaying multiple symptoms, contact us at Fairchance Dental Arts to run a full evaluation to see if a dental treatment can help.


1: Marcus CL, Brooks LJ, Draper KA, et al. Diagnosis and management of childhood obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. PEDIATRICS. 2012
2: Gruber R, Sadeh A. Sleep and neurobehavioral functioning in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and no reported breathing problems. Sleep 2004;27:267-73
3: Lecendreux M, et al. Sleep and alertness in children with ADHD. J Child Psychology Psychiatry 2000;41:803-12