The Connection Between Tongue Ties and Sleep Apnea

Connection between tongue ties and sleep apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Kids

Did you know that children can experience obstructive sleep apnea just like adults? Although the symptoms in adults and children share many similarities, one significant cause tends to happen much more frequently in children: tongue ties.

Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between tongue ties and sleep apnea in kids.

What is pediatric obstructive sleep apnea?

Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep-disordered breathing condition that occurs in children. Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is just one of three different forms of sleep apnea. It’s the most common type of sleep apnea in children and adults. 

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway in a person’s throat becomes blocked, typically by the soft tissues in the throat falling backward. This results in snoring but also has several negative long-term health effects. Getting a diagnosis and treatment for pediatric OSA is vital to ensure your child can sleep well and develop appropriately for their age.

How do I know if my child has pediatric sleep apnea?

Many parents notice their child’s OSA symptoms before getting a confirmed diagnosis. The most common symptoms of pediatric sleep apnea include:

  • Open-mouth breathing while resting or sleeping.
  • Snoring as a normal nightly behavior.
  • Noticeable pauses in breathing while sleeping.
  • Daytime tiredness despite appearing to sleep through the night.
  • Restlessness while trying to sleep.

It’s important to get a professional diagnosis if your baby or child is experiencing OSA or other sleep-disordered breathing symptoms. A pediatrician or sleep specialist can provide this diagnosis, but it’s important for your child’s pediatric dentist to be involved as well. 

How do tongue ties impact obstructive sleep apnea?

A tongue tie, also known as ankyloglossia, is a congenital condition characterized by a short frenulum where the tongue attaches to the mouth. Lip ties are a similar condition in which the frenum between the lip and gums is too short. Both conditions make it difficult for infants and children to nurse, eat, drink, and speak.

There are two primary ways in which tongue ties can either trigger or worsen obstructive sleep apnea in children.

1. Open-Mouth Breathing

Kids with tongue-ties often exhibit open-mouth breathing, especially while sleeping. Unfortunately, chronic open-mouth breathing can dry out and irritate the soft tissues in the mouth and throat. Tonsils often become inflamed due to this irritation, causing them to swell and block the airway.

2. Low Tongue Position

A tongue tie physically forces the tongue to lay at a lower position than it should, particularly while at rest when the tongue should touch the palate or roof of the mouth. Over time, this low tongue position prevents the palate from developing properly as your child develops, resulting in smaller nasal passages and sleep-disordered breathing.

What is a frenectomy, and will it stop OSA symptoms?

A frenectomy is a simple in-office procedure used to revise tongue or lip ties. The treatment process involves clipping the frenulum to allow the tongue or lips to have a greater range of motion. Although frenectomies can be done at any age, it’s most beneficial during infancy.

At Must Love Kids Pediatric Dentistry, our dentists prioritize your baby’s comfort during the procedure, and we provide a gentle anesthetic to alleviate any discomfort. Unlike many other pediatric dental practices, our dentists use an advanced dental diode laser for frenectomies. An ultra-precise laser means less bleeding and swelling, and your baby will heal faster than traditional surgical methods.

After a frenectomy, you’ll need to practice some easy exercises with your baby to help them regain full movement of their lips or tongue. Many parents notice a positive change in their baby’s behavior within a few days to a week.

If your child’s primary cause of OSA was a tongue tie, then a frenectomy should stop their symptoms. If your child’s OSA has a different cause, a frenectomy will greatly help alleviate their symptoms when combined with additional treatment.

Laser frenectomies at Must Love Kids Pediatric Dentistry in Vancouver, WA

The dentists at Must Love Kids Pediatric Dentistry provide gentle pediatric dentistry services, from your baby’s first checkup to helping your pre-teen straighten their smile with braces. Laser frenectomies are an important service we offer for babies struggling with nursing or toddlers experiencing open-mouth breathing and sleep apnea symptoms. If you suspect your child may have a tongue tie or they’re having trouble sleeping, schedule a consultation with their pediatric dentist.