Sleep-Disordered Breathing: Could Your Child Be Suffering? - JUST BREATHE DDS

Does your child grind their teeth or snore? Have you noticed if they breathe through their mouth while they sleep? Do you ever notice if there are brief pauses in their breathing while they are sleeping? If you’ve answered yes to any of the above questions, your child could be suffering from sleep-disordered breathing. 

Not only can sleep-disordered breathing in children be disruptive to their sleep, but it can also result in other health problems. Although scientists are continually learning about the health consequences associated with sleep-disordered breathing, they still do not know how prevalent the disorder is among children and all the risk factors that contribute to it. Thus far, research has shown both the risks and the health effects of sleep deprivation are different for both children and adults. 

In a more recent study, it examined both the commonality of sleep-disordered breathing in children and the specific risk factors associated with it. A research group in Finland examined 491 children ages 6-8 for sleep-disordered breathing. Their study was part of a larger research project on child health that also analyzed how prevalent breathing problems were among the children. In addition, the study also examined factors that possibly contribute to the sleep disorder; including jaw position, tonsil size, and facial proportions. During this study, they defined sleep-disordered breathing as mouth breathing during sleep, frequent or loud snoring, and sleep apnea. 

Recent Child Sleep Study Results In Finland:

  • 9.9% of both girls and boys had some type of breathing disorder while sleeping.
  • The average body-fat percentage was 20.6 for girls and 15.0 for boys and 11.4% of boys and 15.6% of girls were overweight or obese. 
  • Body fat was not associated with an increased risk of sleep related breathing problems in children. Sleep-disordered breathing was no more prevalent among overweight children in this study than children who were at a normal weight. 

Several craniofacial features were found to be associated with elevated risk for sleep-disordered breathing. These features included: 

  • children with enlarged tonsils were 3.7 times as likely to experience symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing, and 
  • Children with a crossbite were 3.3 times more likely to have sleep-disordered breathing. A crossbite is a malocclusion (bite problem) where the top teeth and bottom teeth do not come together or bite in the correct position.
  • Children with convex facial profiles were 2.6 times as likely to suffer from sleep-disordered breathing as children with other facial types. Convex facial features refer to receding chins, prominent foreheads, and brow lines.

From these findings, it shows the risk factors for sleep-disordered breathing may be very different for both children and adults. Research suggests the most prominent risk factor of sleep-disordered breathing in adults is being overweight. Research also indicates that 70% of adults who are morbidly obese have obstructive sleep apnea. On the other hand, this study indicates that excess weight may not be a risk factor for children. Instead, certain dental conditions and features of the head, neck, and throat, can be more crucial indicators of risk for sleep breathing problems in children.

Health Problems Associated With Sleep-Disordered Breathing

Children who develop sleep-disordered breathing also appear to have different health problems than those for adults. Many research studies indicate that children who experience sleep-disordered breathing have a greater chance of problems with emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development.

  • This large study of more than 11,000 children found that kids with sleep-disordered breathing were significantly more likely to have behavioral and emotional problems. These problems include anxiety, hyperactivity, depression, social issues, and aggressiveness.  
  • According to this research, children who exhibit aggressive and bullying behavior in school are twice as likely to have some form of breathing problems during sleep. 
  • In this study children with sleep-disordered breathing demonstrated lower intellectual abilities than those without. Regardless of the degree of severity of the sleep disorder, cognitive impairment existed. 

A recent study in the United States examined the prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing among children. Researchers evaluated more than 12,000 children between the ages of 6 months and 6.75 years, and found the following:  

  • 1-2% of children from 6 mos. to 6.75 years suffer from chronic sleep apnea. 
  • They found 21% of children in this age range snore habitually. 
  • Children ages ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 years have an increased vulnerability to snoring: researchers found a significant increase in rates of snoring among this age range. 
  • 25% of children are mouth breathing while they sleep by the age of six.

Previous research and these latest findings continually show how significant the issue of sleep is for children. It is important to know as much as we can about the prevalence of the disorder among children, as well as the risk factors and health consequences involved. In order to avoid cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems related to inadequate sleep, we also need to get better at diagnosing the problem. 

The Importance Of Early Detection: Rely On A Sleep Clinic Today

Early detection and intervention of a sleep disorder can help avoid more serious problems later on. It’s so crucial for parents to realize the process starts with them. It’s important to pay attention to your child’s breathing while they sleep, and bring attention to any signs of irregular breathing. This is the first and most critical step. By contacting a dentist that is familiar with sleep disorders, it will dramatically improve breathing, sleeping, and overall health and wellness. For more information about sleep disorders and sleep-disordered breathing in children and adults, please contact our office at Just Breathe DDS today at (208) 500-3030.


Ikävalko, T., Tuomilehto, H., Pahkala, R. et al. Craniofacial morphology but not excess body fat is associated with risk of having sleep-disordered breathing—The PANIC Study (a questionnaire-based inquiry in 6–8-year-olds). Eur J Pediatr 171, 1747–1752 (2012).

Karen BonuckKatherine FreemanRonald D. Chervin, and Linzhi Xu
Sleep-Disordered Breathing in a Population-Based Cohort: Behavioral Outcomes at 4 and 7 years