Sleep Apnea Problems

Sleep apnea is a condition that not only afflicts adults, but, surprisingly, children as well.

Sometimes, it is the orthodontist who has the first chance to help diagnose sleep apnea. It is usually found in older patients, caused by an obstruction in the airway such that normal breathing, oxygenation of the blood, and deep sleep are not functioning optimally. Excess weight (fat) can place indirect pressure on the airway (or the airway just collapses for other specific and non-specific reasons), such that snoring may occur, and patients stop breathing as much as 20 to 30 times in an hour’s sleep time. This triggers a signal to the brain to stop sleeping deeply. This alternating cycle allows breathing to restart” intermittently and is so brief that patients have no awareness of the problem, other than producing a feeling of being drowsy in the morning or having headaches associated with the drowsiness.

The orthodontist can interpret certain other anatomic and physiologic anomalies as well. Tonsils, adenoids, a retrusive jaw (too far back into the throat) or narrow upper jaw can be associated with sleep apnea. It is a serious condition that should not be ignored, as there are other medical and psychological consequences that can result from not sleeping well at night. If it is felt that you or your child has any signs of sleep apnea, we will refer you to your family physician, who may, in turn, advise a sleep study. Children’s growth and emotional health can be negatively affected by sleep apnea, as Growth Hormone in children is actually released during the deepest levels of sleep. If deep levels of sleep are not occurring due to breathing limitations, a chain reaction of medical consequences may unfold.