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How airway development and breathing patterns impact your child’s health.

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Does your child breathe through their mouth?

Mouth-breathers are shallow breathers and tend to hyperventilate which causes less oxygen to be delivered to the brain, the muscles, and all the cells. Therefore, the body functions less than optimally. When air enters the body through the mouth (instead of the nose) it is unfiltered, dry, and cool which can result in irritated and enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Tonsils and adenoids can become so large that they obstruct the airway.
Lower levels of carbon dioxide in the body because of mouth-breathing causes smooth muscle spasms and is associated with gastric reflux, asthma, and bedwetting.

What is sleep disordered breathing and how does it correlate to breath?

Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB) is a condition that describes the entire spectrum of abnormalities that occur during sleep. These range from mild breathing difficulties caused by problems such as a chronically congested nose to more severe conditions like snoring and sleep apnea. SDB is very common among mouth-breathers. As mouth-breathers struggle to get enough oxygen into their body while they sleep, the brain often causes the body to wake up enough to either change positions and open the airway or to gasp and take a breath. This results in fragmented sleep patterns which can lead to inflammatory processes in the body that are associated with conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and depression. Fragmented sleep can also lead to symptoms that mimic ADHD and learning disabilities, as well as anxiety, poor coping skills, and peer problems. Children need to be able to breathe well while asleep for their rest to be restorative and for the brain to develop normally, and while asleep they should be silent and still.
If you spot any of the following issues or behaviors in your child, you should speak with their pediatrician and strongly consider consulting a pediatric dentist who understands and specializes in airway orthodontics:

Chronic SIGNS:

  • Ear Infections
  • Running or stuffy nose
  • Sinusitis
  • “Crooked” teeth and/or malocclusion

Sleep SIGNS:

  • Snoring, heavy, or noisy breathing while sleeping
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Restless sleep, waking up in a different position on the bed, or “bed clothes” are a mess
  • Dark circles under eyes or “allergic shiners”
  • Hard to wake up or tired in the morning
  • Falling asleep at school or when riding in the car
  • Night terrors

BehaviorAL SIGNS:

  • ADD/ADHD-like symptoms
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Bedwetting

What is airway/functional orthodontics?

Airway or “functional” orthodontics focuses on developing the jaws, teeth and mouth muscles to help support normal airway development. Children with underdeveloped airways can develop sleep disordered breathing as well as other myofunctional compensations as they grow.

What is the difference between traditional and airway orthodontics?

Traditional orthodontics works really well for moving teeth and the jaws, but often does not address the underlying muscles and root cause of why things are out of place. Airway orthodontic appliances work to move teeth and develop the jaws, but also train the underlying muscle to help support this growth. This approach leads to better long-term function. Assessing for this type of orthodontics involves gathering information about tooth placement, jaw development, airway development, muscle function and breathing patterns. We do this by creating models of your child’s mouth, obtaining a CBCT scan to allow for full airway assessment and then deciding on the appropriate treatment.

What types of appliances are used for this treatment?

There are a variety of appliances that can be utilized in airway orthodontics. Some of these include fixed or removable hyrax or Schwarz appliances, the Myobrace® system, and ALF appliances. The type of appliance utilized depends on the individual needs of the child. Myofunctional therapy is highly recommended in conjunction with any orthodontic intervention as well as screening for oral ties. In addition to orthodontic treatment, consulting with an ENT or sleep physician may be recommended.