The Invisible Gorilla in the Room

Sleep apnea and children By Rhonda R. Savage, DDS, Uptown Dental & Wellness Center

“Snoring is totally natural. In fact, in the caveman days, it scared away wild animals!” “Even after we know how our beliefs and intuitions are flawed, they remain stubbornly resistant to change,” wrote authors Chabris and Simons in the famous psychology experiment titled “The Gorilla in the Room.” One example, which we know to be false but many still believe, is this: Driving down the road on the cell phone, we believe we’re paying attention to the road.

My question is: “Do you believe that snoring in adults or children is normal?” I personally believe, with regard to wild animals, it would be better to be quiet and silent! But that’s me. Not everyone feels the same way, and we’re all entitled to our beliefs. But, if you go to YouTube and watch videos of children with sleep apnea, it’ll break your heart.

Why should you be concerned? Sleep apnea can: • Affect children’s growth hormones • Cause the child to be incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD • Cause changes in facial structure and lower jaw development • Affect children’s learning abilities in school

Why should a dentist be concerned about this issue? Because people, including children, can suffer from silent acid reflux due to sleep apnea and/or snoring, causing more cavities. With adult patients, we see gum disease because lack of sleep causes an inability to resolve gum inflammation.

What kind of inflammation can plague a child? Asthma-type symptoms, fluctuation in blood sugar levels, irritable bowel symptoms and severity of Crohn’s disease.

Sleep apnea is when a person partially or fully stops breathing at night during sleep. Did you know that the brain needs oxygen all the time? It’s hungry for O2. Brain cells die without sufficient oxygen, and we don’t grow new brain cells. It should be clear that treating children with sleep apnea and adults is important.

In my dental practice, I asked a little 4-year-old to say “Ahhh” to check his airway, and I was stunned! I looked at his dad and said, “Wow! Does he snore at night?”

His dad said, “All the time. He’s a wild snorer.” The little guy had no airway due to huge tonsils and adenoids. I recommended he see his pediatrician and an ENT specialist. The next time he came in for a checkup, I asked his dad how he was doing, and the dad said, “He’s a different child!”

What should you look for? • Children who sleep with their mouth open • Retruded lower jaw • Long, narrow face • Tired • Moving all around the bed • Up frequently at night • Not doing well in school • Too much energy and/or irritability • Infections • Bed wetting

Our beliefs and intuition used to tell us that only overweight people had sleep apnea. This is absolutely not true. Weight does play a significant role in the severity of sleep apnea, but even children and fit people can suffer from disordered airway breathing.

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