It makes sense that most parents think of their children’s health as “normal” or “average.” After all, most children are normal. The average child is in the average range. That’s the definition of average.
Sure, your child has issues. Doesn’t everyone? You might think the fact that your child snores, takes a long time to get going in the morning and isn’t the star student you think they should be, well, that’s normal.
Your child doesn’t pay attention the way you would like? Okay, they’re a kid. They have allergies and get lots of colds? They’ll outgrow it.
Dr. Spock told us not to sweat this kind of stuff, right?
In my practice, I see a lot of children with these kinds of issues. They seem perfectly normal in every respect, and I suppose they are. But that doesn’t mean we can’t alleviate these problems and improve their quality of life.
Mouth Breathing is Dangerous
It’s not uncommon for children, for a variety of reasons, to have difficulty breathing through their nose during sleep. It can result from inflamed adenoids or tonsils. Narrowing of the air passage is also a cause.
That leaves the child to breathe through their mouth, which is where the problems begin. The air that passes through the mouth is unfiltered by the nose, allowing bacteria to survive. Breathing through the mouth causes structures used in normal breathing, like the upper jaw bones and muscles, to atrophy. It can narrow the nasal passage and constrict the airway.
In short, children who breathe through their mouths during sleep generally are not breathing well. The blocked airway can cause snoring, or worse, a pause in the breathing every few seconds, which creates momentary waking to start breathing again. This is called sleep apnea and the result is that the child never enters deep, restorative sleep, the necessary bodily function that allows us to perform optimally every day.
You can probably guess the upshot of sleep apnea. Unrefreshed children are sluggish to rise because they’re still tired. Their thinking is muddy because their brains are sleepy. Their immune systems are fatigued and can’t fight off common viruses that lead to colds and allergies.
It’s a vicious cycle and it doesn’t necessarily just go away.
A Solution for Sleep Apnea
But here’s the good news: this is treatable.
Treatment consists of engaging the services of an ENT doctor to examine the adenoids and tonsils. If they are the culprit, they can be removed.
We may also employ an expander appliance that slowly over time expands the roof of the mouth – the palate – to create a larger airway. Using the appliance before the child is 10 or so is especially effective because the seam in the palate has not yet closed.
This intervention can triple or quadruple the amount of air passing through the nose and ameliorate or cure the breathing problem for good. In my book, The Artist Orthodontist, I tell the story of one child who had all the symptoms you’ve read here and who was close to the breaking point. After just a year of treatment her life had turned around.