Children’s Dental Health Awareness Month 2022: Airway Issues in Children
As dentists who work with kids, we are not only concerned with your children’s teeth and gums; we are also concerned with the development and growth of their faces! Poor facial muscle habits in children, like low tongue posture, incorrect swallowing patterns, and mouth-breathing can begin around birth or soon after. As children age, if patterns of poor oral habits and incorrect growth and development of the face continue, airway development becomes compromised and breathing obstructions can occur. Mouth-breathing, which is particularly problematic, then becomes habitual as the child’s body adapts to poor facial growth and smaller, constricted, or obstructed airways.
We are passionate at MDA about parental awareness and education as early as possible when it comes to airway issues. Preventing the negative health outcomes for our youngest patients is one of the most rewarding aspects of our practice. Understanding how dentistry can help resolve childhood breathing irregularities can be life changing for you and your kids.
Current research shows that mouth-breathing and poor facial development caused by enlarged adenoids and tonsils as well as tight maxillary and lingual frenum attachments, AKA lip-ties or tongue-ties, can lead to serious health issues in children, including poor or fragmented sleep patterns; ADHD and other behavioral issues; increased severity of asthma; chronic sinus and/ or ear infections; and high blood pressure. Mouth-breathing can also result in more pathogenic bacteria flora in the mouth, which can lead to an increased risk for cavities, a higher risk for periodontal disease later in life, and chronic jaw pain disorders such as TMD.
Mouth-breathing happens, obviously, when the mouth is left open to breathe, but there are serious unintended negative consequences of mouth breathing. When the mouth is left open to breathe, the muscles in the cheeks become tight, which in turn applies an external force to the upper and lower jaws, creating a narrowing effect on the face and dental arches. Mouth-breathing also affects the position of the tongue in the mouth. The tongue, acting as “nature’s retainer” when in its proper position resting on the roof of the mouth, supports a child’s upper arch, which allows enough room for all the teeth to come in as they should as well as maintaining facial bone development as a child matures. Incorrect facial development in children has been shown to lead to obstructive sleep apnea (which in later life can lead to heart attack or stroke) and dental malocclusion.
The good news is that when caught early, poor facial muscle habits, including mouth-breathing and airway issues in children are highly treatable. While some conditions may require the expertise of a surgeon, such as the removal of adenoids and tonsils or an allergy specialist, we are able to address some of these issues from the comfort of the dental chair. At MDA, we screen our young patients for lip-ties or tongue-ties, which can prevent children from having proper tongue placement in the mouth and if necessary, are able to perform a simple laser frenectomy to correct the problem. With orthodontics, we can address teeth misalignment and palate expansions which can lead to better facial structure outcomes as your child grows and prevent troublesome airway issues.
Your children’s oral health is as important to us as it is to you! When your child comes in for routine dental care, they are given an examination for signs of facial muscle issues; issues cause by mouth-breathing; and incoming tooth misalignment. We know that a lifetime of healthy dental habits work best when started at a young age, which is why we are not only thorough in our care for your children, but why we make sure they feel relaxed and comfortable while in our care!