Blake Cameron, DDS, FAGD, Aspen Dental

Fellow Academy of Laser Dentistry

Have you ever passed by your child’s bedroom before going to bed and thought you heard a razorback hog in there with him or her? If that kind of noise comes from your child’s bedroom while sleeping, we should talk about childhood snoring.

If your kid snores only occasionally, like when they have a cold, that’s one thing. If they snore all the time, though, it could be a sign of sleep disordered breathing (SDB). You’ve probably heard of sleep apnea, and that can definitely happen in kids, too, but remember kids are far more sensitive than adults to sleep disturbances because they’re constantly growing and developing. They need a lot more sleep, and their bodies are far more sensitive to sleep disturbances, so it doesn’t have to be full-fledged apnea for it to cause issues for kids.

So what else should you look for if you do have a regular razorback hog in your house? Well, in adults we watch for signs of daytime sleepiness, but kids are often different. Your child may also be tired, but may show it by being grumpy or having trouble concentrating at school. They may also have a bed-wetting problem. Severe sleep disordered breathing can even affect a child’s growth.

As a dentist, I look in people’s mouths all day, and there could be signs that a child is having trouble sleeping. If your child grinds their teeth, for example, that’s worth a closer look since tooth grinding can be a protective mechanism by the body when sleep is disturbed. When a child snores, grinds their teeth, and the shape of their dental arch is narrow, red flags definitely start rising. If your dentist is looking for it, he or she may be able to help you catch something that could help your child immensely.

So, what do we do if there are multiple red flags, or if you’re simply concerned? You can express your concerns to your pediatrician or an ENT. Your dentist can tell you if they sees signs of concern as well. In some kids, it may be as simple as removing their tonsils or adenoids. If you’ve caught it a little later, you may need to have your kid’s dental arch expanded to help improve their airway. It’s often going to be a team approach, and you’re in the driver’s seat as the parent, so keep asking questions, and you’ll be able to find out if that razorback hog is keeping your kid from getting the sleep they need.

Help Your Kids Catch Their ZZZs

Outside of sleep disordered breathing, or other medical reasons for disturbed sleep, there are other things that could be preventing your child from getting a good night’s rest.  Here are three ways you can help:

  1. Make sleep a priority. Just like you schedule time for homework, sports, and other activities, schedule time for sleep. Literally. Start from when your child needs to get up in the morning, and count back the number of hours he or she needs to sleep, then set and enforce a bedtime.
  2. Start the bedtime routine earlier. It is difficult for anyone to go right from a physically or mentally intense activity directly to sleep. If bedtime is at 8 p.m., your child should start winding down between 7 and 7:30 so they are ready to fall asleep at 8.
  3. Turn off the screens. The blue light emitted from screens can wake up the brain and make it harder to fall asleep. This is particularly true for “small screens”, such as phones or tablets, that are held closer to the face. Shut them off an hour before bedtime.