Your Child's Airway

An assessment of the growth and development of your child's teeth and jaws may indicate they have a compromised airway.

Why is Airway Obstruction a Problem?

Proper growth of the jaws is determined by the position of the tongue. The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body, and it is supposed to spend most of its' time resting against the palate (roof of the mouth). In this position it guides the growth of the upper jaw. An obstructed airway can alter the natural resting position of the tongue and cause abnormal growth of the jaws.

Airway obstruction can also cause sleep apnea in children. Sleep apnea reduces a child's IQ by an average 16 points and is often misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD. It needs to be taken very seriously.

Common Types of Obstruction

Most airway obstruction in children is a result of enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids.

Enlarged adenoids make it very difficult to breathe through the nose. As a result, the child becomes a chronic mouth breather. When breathing through the mouth, the tongue does not contact the palate and as a result the upper arch can become very narrow.

Enlarged tonsils can leave insufficient space for the tongue. Often a child will develop a "tongue thrust" causing the front teeth not to meet, or prevent the side teeth from coming through properly.

Diagnosis and Treatment

For the next 2 weeks observe your child sleeping and record if they are breathing through their mouth or their nose, and if they are snoring (or making any other noise while sleeping). Try to look twice a night and write it down on the next page.

Also observe them while they're watching television (or concentrating) and determine if their lips are sealed or apart. Record this also.

If a pattern of mouth breathing is suspected, particularly if the airway seems partially blocked by tonsillar tissue, referral to an ENT specialist will be recommended. He or she will assess whether the mouth breathing is the result of an obstruction or just habit, and also determine whether they may suggest any surgery or other treatment for the offending obstructive tissues.