What is Pediatric Sleep Apnea?

pediatric sleep apneaSANTA CRUZ, SCOTTS VALLEY CA

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects children much like it does adults. The condition happens when the throat muscles relax during sleep and partially or completely block the airway, making it difficult to breathe. The most common symptom of OSA in children and adults is snoring. The sound that snoring makes is soft tissue vibrating as air struggles to flow through the airway. Left untreated, OSA can significantly impact a child’s health, behavior and development. Let’s take a look today at what pediatric sleep apnea is, what causes it, what its symptoms look like and what treatments our Santa Cruz pediatric sleep apnea dentist has available to help everyone in your family get a better nights’ sleep.

What causes pediatric sleep apnea?

Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition most often caused by: 

  1. Enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids This is the most common cause of pediatric OSA because the enlarged tissues block the child’s airway during sleep.
  2. Obesity Like in adults, excess fat around the neck and throat narrow the airway and apply added weight and pressure to it when lying down.
  3. Genetic and congenital conditions Issues like Down’s syndrome, craniofacial abnormalities or neuromuscular disorders can increase a child’s risk of having sleep apnea.
  4. Allergies/Asthma Sometimes, a cold or respiratory illness may cause a child to show signs of OSA, but these are temporary. Chronic respiratory issues like asthma and allergies, however, can cause constant inflammation and airway obstruction.

What are common symptoms of pediatric OSA?

In adults, loud, persistent snoring is the most common symptom obstructive sleep apnea. Children often snore with OSA, too, but sometimes their symptoms aren’t quite as recognizable as adults’.

If you notice any of these common signs and symptoms while your child is sleeping, contact our airway dentist in Scotts Valley:

  • Loud, persistent snoring
  • Pauses in breathing followed by gasps for air or gagging or choking noises
  • Restless sleep or frequent awakenings
  • Mouth breathing
  • Night sweats
  • Bedwetting, even in older children

During the daytime hours, look for the following signs and symptoms of pediatric OSA:

  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Difficulty waking up
  • Behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, moodiness or aggression
  • An inability to focus, concentrate or remember things
  • Poor attention span
  • Suffering academic performance
  • Mouth breathing and nasal speech

How can Ebrahimian Integrative Dentistry help?

During routine checkups and exams, our Los Gatos pediatric sleep apnea dentist can often recognize signs of childhood OSA, including enlarged tonsils, a high-arched palate or a narrow airway. If we suspect your child has sleep apnea, we will work with a qualified sleep specialist to make an official diagnosis. Once diagnosed, we can help in one or more of the following ways:


Orthodontic options such as braces and palate expanders can improve airway size and function which will reduce sleep apnea’s severity.

Oral appliance therapy

Oral appliances, similar to mouthguards, can treat mild to moderate cases of pediatric OSA. Our Santa Cruz airway dentist, using digital imaging of your child’s mouth and teeth, will custom-make a comfortable appliance that repositions the lower jaw and tongue to keep the airway open.

Myofunctional therapy

Myofunctional therapy includes exercises to strengthen the tongue and orofacial muscles. This promotes proper nasal breathing and improved airway stability.

Surgical intervention

In cases where enlarged adenoids or tonsils are causing airway obstructions in children, we may recommend surgery with with an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist for the removal of tonsils and adenoids. This surgery can permanently alleviate airway obstruction.


Pediatric sleep apnea is a serious condition, and it warrants prompt attention and treatment. Early intervention will help your child enjoy quality sleep, improving mood, behavior and concentration. This can drastically affect academic performance and how well your child gets along with others. On the other hand, untreated OSA is linked to health problems like cardiovascular issues, obesity and diabetes, so early intervention can mitigate these risks. If your child shows one or more OSA symptoms, please call Ebrahimian Integrative Dentistry at (831) 824-5111, or reach us online today. We can put your child on the road to a better nights’ sleep and a happy, healthy future.