This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

According to a recent study in Finland, approximately 10 percent of six-year-olds have sleep-disordered breathing. This increased among children with enlarged tonsils, crossbite, or a convex facial profile. Unlike in adults, excess body fat is not associated with sleep-disordered breathing in this age group. The study was conducted by the Institute of Biomedicine at the University of Easter Finland. The study was part of their Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) Study. The results were published in European Journal of Pediatrics.

The study involved 512 Finnish children aged around six-to-eight-years-old. Their lifestyles and health were thoroughly examined. They also had an evaluation of their craniofacial morphology and dental occlusion.

The risk of six year old children for having sleep-disordered breathing was associated with certain craniofacial morphology traits, but not with excess body fat. The role of obesity is likely to increase with age. The prevention of excess weight gain is vital in prevention of sleep apnea.

Sleep-disordered breathing varies from mild snoring to sleep apnea symptoms. In addition to nocturnal pauses in breathing, children can experience other symptoms. These include daytime hyperactivity, behavioral and learning difficulties, and compromised growth. “If a child has symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing, his or her craniofacial status and dental occlusion need to be examined. On the other hand, children with tonsillar hypertrophy, crossbite and convex facial profile should be examined to assess the quality of their sleep,” concludes Ms Tiina Ikävalko, Orthodontic Specialist and Clinical Lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland.

The study indicates that some of those at risk for sleep apnea as adults could be have been identified in childhood. Early recognition that your child might be at risk for sleep-disordered breathing can help catch the disease early before it progresses. The diagnosis and treatment of sleep-disordered breathing is best carried out in cooperation with dentists, pediatricians, and otorhinolaryngologists along with the parents.

Adenotonsillectomy remains the main treatment of sleep-disordered breathing in children. Orthodontic treatment may also be useful. These treatments include ways to control the development of the jaws and to prevent the development of craniofacial traits predisposing to sleep apnea.