Sleep Apnea May be Linked to ADHD in Children

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ADHD. It’s one of the most common mental disorders affecting children today, affecting approximately five percent of kids, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

ADHD can show up in different ways – an inability to focus, hyperactivity, and taking impulsive actions without considering their broader consequences. It can make life extremely difficult for children (and the 2.5% of adults it’s estimated to affect too).

child sleeping 

However, it’s sometimes hard to spot ADHD, especially since many children display these behaviors to some extent.

Another complicating factor? Recent research suggests that obstructive sleep apnea can be a contributing factor to attention deficit disorderIf children are not able to get a good night’s sleep (due to inability of continuous sleep and having apneatic episodes) they can present symptoms of ADHD. If there is a limited airway, steps can be taken to open the airway to allow for better breathing. If the airway is a factor and breathing is able to be improved, it has been shown that the symptoms of ADHD diminish.

So, what is obstructive sleep apnea? How can it affect attention and behavior? And most importantly, how is it diagnosed and treated?

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

According to Mayo Clinic, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your throat muscles relax during sleep, blocking your airway temporarily.

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea may include extreme sleepiness during the day, mood swings, and difficulty concentrating.

However, children “often fail to report excessive daytime sleepiness,” which means that medical professionals may miss the signs of obstructive sleep apnea, and focus on ADHD instead.

Sleep apnea in a child looks much different than in an adult. Many times, it can only be detected by checking a child’s oxygen levels throughout the night. As dentists, things we look for are large tonsils, a child who is a mouth breather, and small/narrow maxillary or mandibular arches.

If My Child Has Obstructive Sleep Apnea, What Are Our Options?

If your child has obstructive sleep apnea, there are several options for treatment.

The most common form of treatment? A CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, which uses a mask that’s placed over your face during sleep to deliver a stream of air that helps keep your airway open, improving the quality of your sleep, and decreasing daytime sleepiness.

However, CPAPs can be uncomfortable. They can also disrupt your jaw function and cause your teeth to wear in suboptimal position, at times straining your front teeth. 

As dentists, we are looking to resolve the problem verses a temporary treatment. We want to find ways to allow for more airway, which may be to expand the arches, remove tonsils and adenoids, etc.

To protect your teeth, you should always consult with your dentist when you are fitted for a CPAP machine, to ensure it promotes optimal tooth and jaw function.

Another option? Neuromuscular dentistry. Commonly used to treat TMJ disorders, neuromuscular dentistry can also help alleviate obstructive sleep apnea.

How does it work? Neuromuscular dentists focus on correcting muscular and skeletal imbalances in the jaw. They work to find the optimal bite for your teeth, bones, muscles, and tendons. The end result? A corrected bite that optimizes jaw, tooth, and airway function, while reducing or eliminating TMJ pain and tooth damage.

What’s the Right Option for My Child?

If your child displays symptoms of ADHD, it’s important to see a medical professional.

It’s also important to let your child’s dentist know what’s going on. As experts in tooth function and mouth health, dentists can help you evaluate how your child’s oral health could be contributing to other health issues they may be experiencing. It can be especially helpful to consult with a neuromuscular dentist, who is dedicated to promoting complete oral health, including optimal jaw, tooth, tendon, and ligament function.

Summer is the Perfect Time to Set Your Child Up for Success

Have you scheduled a dental checkup for your child recently?

Keeping up with oral health can be key to your child’s success. Schedule an appointment today! 

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