Causes of Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Children

The primary cause of SDB, including OSA in children, is adenotonsillar hypertrophy—an enlargement of the tonsils and adenoids that can block the airway during sleep. This obstruction disrupts normal sleep patterns, leading to various health issues. Other factors contributing to SDB include obesity, which can put extra pressure on the airway; craniofacial anomalies that affect the structure of the jaw and airway; and neuromuscular disorders that impair muscle tone around the airway. Understanding these causes is crucial for effective diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms to Watch For

Children with sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) might exhibit various symptoms that can affect their daily life and development. Key symptoms include snoring, teeth grinding, and frequent awakenings or restlessness during sleep, which could indicate interrupted breathing patterns. Other signs are bedwetting, daytime sleepiness, and behavioral issues such as ADHD or anxiety. Large tonsils might also be observed during a dental examination, a common physical indicator of SDB in children.

Treatment Options

When it comes to treating children with sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), we adopt a holistic approach that encompasses a variety of surgical and non-surgical methods tailored to each child’s specific needs. Understanding that each case is unique, we carefully evaluate the most suitable options to ensure effective and comfortable treatment.

Surgical Treatments: While adenotonsillectomy, the removal of enlarged tonsils and adenoids, remains a common surgical solution (not performed in our office), it’s typically considered when non-surgical methods are not viable or have been exhausted. This procedure has shown a high success rate in alleviating symptoms of SDB by clearing the airway obstruction, thus improving sleep quality and overall health.

Non-Surgical Treatments:

  • Myofunctional Therapy: This therapy focuses on exercises that strengthen the mouth and throat muscles. By improving the function and positioning of the tongue and encouraging nasal breathing, myofunctional therapy can significantly reduce symptoms of SDB.
  • Oral Appliances: Custom-fitted oral appliances can effectively treat mild to moderate OSA by advancing the position of the mandible or tongue, thus keeping the airway open during sleep. These devices are especially useful for children who struggle with the invasiveness of CPAP machines.
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Therapy: Although CPAP is a standard treatment for adults with OSA, its application in children requires careful consideration due to challenges with mask fit and compliance. Nonetheless, for some children, CPAP provides a viable option to ensure an open airway throughout the night.
  • Lifestyle Changes and Weight Management: Addressing obesity and other lifestyle factors is crucial for the overall management of SDB. Healthy weight loss and nutritional counseling can reduce the severity of OSA symptoms in children by decreasing pressure on the airway.

We are dedicated to providing a comprehensive and compassionate approach to treating SDB in children. By incorporating a mix of the latest treatment methodologies and personalized care, we aim to ensure your child achieves restful sleep, essential for their growth, development, and well-being.

The Dentist’s Role in Managing SDB

Dentists, particularly those with pediatric and orthodontic expertise, are pivotal in identifying children at risk for sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). During routine exams, they can spot signs of adenotonsillar hypertrophy and identify craniofacial anomalies that may contribute to SDB. Dentists can provide or recommend oral appliances for mild to moderate cases and refer patients to specialists for further evaluation. Educating parents on the signs and consequences of SDB is also a key part of their role.


Dentists look for signs like large tonsils, teeth grinding, and other craniofacial indicators during routine dental exams.

Options include oral appliances, CPAP therapy (in some cases), myofunctional therapy, and lifestyle changes such as weight management.

Early evaluations can be beneficial. Consult a dentist for symptoms like snoring, daytime sleepiness, or behavioral changes.

Yes, SDB can lead to behavioral issues such as ADHD, anxiety, and daytime sleepiness due to disrupted sleep.

Schedule Your Child’s Sleep Breathing Evaluation

Is your child showing signs of sleep-disordered breathing? Don’t wait to seek help. Lawson Dentistry in Urbandale, IA, is committed to providing comprehensive care for children experiencing SDB, including obstructive sleep apnea. Our experienced team is ready to support your child’s health and development with tailored treatment options. Contact us today by calling (515) 278-4366 or complete our online contact form to schedule an evaluation and take the first step towards restful, healthy sleep for your child. Let us be part of your journey to wellness.