Around 1 in 5 children with a snoring habit get it from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes repeated brief interruptions to breathing during sleep. This disorder, as well as being potentially life threatening, can have serious consequences for oral health.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA for short) happens when the airway is blocked, usually by the tongue and soft palate collapsing against the back of the throat, closing it off. At this point, the brain forces the person to wake up and take a breath, which can happen hundreds of times in a single night. Sleep apnea makes it very hard to get a restful night of sleep.
How is oral health connected? Beyond the effects of sleep deprivation (irritability, hyperactivity, exhaustion, and difficulty concentrating at school), a child with sleep apnea will also be more vulnerable to oral health problems like gum disease and temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD).
Studies have shown that when the throat relaxes in a sleep apnea episode, the jaw reflexively clenches to prevent the airway from closing off. Problems associated with TMD include pain when chewing, soreness in the jaw, chronic headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and even worn, cracked, or broken teeth.