Can Your Dentist Help With Childhood Snoring?

Childhood sleeping on floor next to white dog

Miguel Sanz / Moment / Getty Images

Any parent would remember the time when their infant would fall asleep and closely monitoring that they were in fact breathing. Today, you’re probably just glad that your child sleeps at all, yet childhood snoring is something that every parent should be aware of.

The thought of your child struggling for air during sleep is any parent’s nightmare. For the most part, childhood snoring may indicate a variety of issues that a child is suffering or at risk of, including crowded dental development, daytime tiredness learning difficulties, and behavioral issues.

Child sleeping
Getty Images

Is Childhood Snoring Normal?

Snoring, which is best known for its presence in overweight middle-aged males, has the same principles in both adults and children. When we fall asleep we relax muscles that support our airways and tongue. As a result, our tongue falls back into the throat reducing the volume of air in the throat causing a vibration that is known as snoring.

Research has shown that children who snored loudly were twice as likely to have learning problems. Following a night of poor sleep, children are also more likely to be hyperactive and have difficulty paying attention. These are also signs of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Sleep apnea may also be associated with delayed growth and cardiovascular problems.

Snoring and Oxygen Starvation

Sleep is a time for rejuvenation and regeneration. The body is resetting and rebuilding all of its processes and is a vitally crucial time for rapidly growing children. One of the biggest concerns is neurological impacts that may occur if a child can’t deliver enough oxygen to their brain during sleep.

Sleep-disordered breathing is a term for breathing conditions that occur during sleep. The concern is that during SDBs, a child’s brain may be starved of oxygen. 

With approximately 10% of children shown to snore regularly, approximately 2-4% concurrently have obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes blocked causing repetitive pauses in breathing during sleep and decreasing oxygenation of the blood. Experts have confirmed that snoring can be a sign of airways becoming blocked during sleep and may cause sleep apnea.

Other signs of childhood sleep apnea include:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Venous pooling or ‘shadows’ under eyes
  • Snoring or loud labored breathing during sleep
  • Aggressive or hyperactive behavior
  • Morning headaches
  • Sweating during sleep
  • Bedwetting
  • Mouth breathing
  • Teeth grinding

How Teeth and Dental Health Contribute to Snoring

Childhood snoring can be a sign of deeper breathing issues that put a child at development risks due to poor sleep. However, the reason for the snoring to occur may indicate that the child’s mouth isn’t developing the way it should.

The oral cavity not only houses the teeth, tongue and other soft tissues, but the facial bones are home to the upper airways in both the nose and throat. When a child has crooked, cramped teeth, it means their jawbone hasn’t grown properly and their airways may also suffer from restriction. When a person grinds their teeth at night, it often means the body is trying to open their restricted airways to breathe properly.

Snoring in a child with crooked teeth could be a cardinal sign of obstructive sleep apnea that delivers repetitive pauses in breathing due to poor development of upper airways.

Other Conditions That Contribute to Sleep Apnea in Children

Asides from dental development there is a range of contributing risk factors that may put a child at risk of sleep apnea. If your child has any of these in conjunction with dental crowding and snoring, you should have your child assessed in a sleep study.

The most common problem associated with sleep-disordered breathing is large tonsils. Swollen or infected adenoids in the throat contribute to airway blockage making it extremely difficult for a child to breathe during sleep.

How Your Dentist Can Help

If you’ve noticed any of these signs in your child you should investigate whether they need a sleep study to determine whether they have sleep disordered breathing. A trip to the dentist may be able to determine if they are at risk due to poorly formed dental arches and small upper airways or mouth breathing.

If you suspect your child is at risk book an appointment today with your GP or dentist.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Steven Lin, DDS
Steven Lin, DDS, is a dentist, TEDx speaker, health educator, and author.