Snoring, grinding, clenching, and mouth breathing are all signs of sleep-disordered breathing for your child, or what is referred to as OSA – obstructive sleep apnea. Failure to diagnose and treat the condition can lead to reduced quality of life and a host of developmental implications.
Sleep is important for children as it is their time for growth and brain development. A perfect night’s sleep that is both restful and restorative is usually associated with that of a baby. And when your 4 or 5 year old child starts snoring, it should be seen as an indication of child sleep apnea that requires immediate remedial action.
The problem with a 4-year-old snoring
While snoring may seem rather harmless, sleep apnea and other forms of sleep breathing disorders (SBD) do not end by themselves. In other words, your child is unlikely to ‘outgrow” the condition. In fact, it is more likely to become worse over time. Though 10 – 12% of children are affected by primary snoring, only about 1.2 – 5.7% have been diagnosed with OSA, according to the National Library of Medicine
Studies have revealed that poor quality sleep caused by mouth breathing tends to increase the intake of calories and weight gain, which, in turn, increases the risk of SBDs. In addition, sleep apnea is known to affect the development of a child’s personality and behavior, all the way into adulthood.
Impact of child sleep apnea on oral development
Mouth breathing occurs when the child experiences resistance in the nasal airway. When this blockage occurs, the facial and dental development of a child becomes abnormal.
Studies conducted on both humans and animals revealed that prolonged nasal blockage (when mouth breathing is left untreated) led to the development of long, narrow faces with receded jaw, crooked teeth, and future headache and TMD issues.
When the airway and jaw are unable to develop fully, the airway tends to get obstructed easily during sleep. The complete relaxation of muscles during the deep sleep stage can also cause the muscles around the airway to relax and collapse. The airway is a constricted space that can get much tighter when the infant or child suffers from adenoids and large tonsils.
Child snoring and grinding teeth
Obstruction of the airway causes the brain to bounce out of deep sleep into lighter sleep in order to clench and grind and move the jaw forward, allowing for breathing. So, clenching and grinding are the body’s natural reaction to reopen a collapsed airway during sleep to allow breathing again, making them a good sign for the early detection of sleep apnea.
Impact of sleep apnea on personality
Deep sleep is associated with the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which is critical to a child’s long bone growth and brain development. So, the interruption of deep sleep stops the release of HGH, which, in turn, stunts brain development and growth.
Deep sleep is also important for the body to repair, heal, and restore itself from the stress of the day. Without sleep, the body releases adrenaline, which causes hyperactivity, poor health, lowered immune systems, obesity, and ultimately, a diagnosis with ADHD or other behavioral issues.
Child snoring solutions
As a parent, you must ensure that your child can breathe through his/her nose with ease by improving their sleep hygiene. This means adjusting the sleep environment and sleeping habits by maintaining a steady sleep schedule, reducing screen time before going to bed, avoiding any food at least two hours before bed, and ensuring that the bedroom is comfy and quiet, among others.
If these adjustments don’t seem to work, you should visit a dentist or orthodontist for professional diagnosis and treatment. In some cases, positive airway pressure (PAP) devices and other orthodontic appliances can help to prevent any obstruction and promote airflow, preventing the need for surgical removal of adenoids and tonsils.