Mouth Breathing and Your Child with Special Needs

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For a child with special needs, uncongested, regular, breathing is key for good health, sleep, language, and more! Very often, unfortunately, this is not the case for these kids.

Making sure that your child is breathing through the nose is important for a number of reason:

  • Helps fight infection
  • Reduces allergic response by filtering possible allergens
  • Increases oxygen through the body and to the cells
  • Promotes good sleep and digestion
  • Reduces stress
  • Promotes good facial structure

When a child is breathing through the mouth, the complete opposite is happening. Chronic mouth breathing can negatively affect facial growth, dental health, and…you guessed it — sleep.

Mouth breathing reduces the amount of oxygen that goes to the brain and compresses the breathing passages. Because the nose is not doing it’s clean up work, the tonsils and adenoids step in. However, this causes an increase in inflammation, which then puts even more pressure on the respiratory system.

When the breathing pathway is restricted, it prevents someone from going into the deeper, restorative stages of sleep. Your little one could be waking up over, and over, and over again, even if they are gettin 12 hours a night. These interruptions may only be a few times, and they may only last a few seconds, but this adds up real fast!

Chronic sleep interruption and deprivation like this can affect the ability to learn, remember things, hormone balance, behavior, and more! Some common signs that a child may have this kind of irregular breathing at night are:

  • Teeth grinding
  • Snoring
  • Bed wetting
  • Hyperactivity
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Restless sleep
  • …and more!

So, how do you know what to do?

If your child with special needs is showing signs of any of the above, consider doing the following:

  1. Record your child’s snoring or breathing at night. Taking a quick sound clip of what your child’s breathing sounds like can be helpful to your pediatrician.
  2. Talk to your pediatrician. Just discussing your child’s breathing issue may not be enough to get your doctor to act. That sound bite can help your doctor determine if more intervention is needed. This may include a consultation with a respiratory specialist, ENT doctor, or in some rare cases, a sleep study. Although it can be stressful for everyone, these visits are important to know your child will start sleeping better soon.
  3. Decrease the amount of inflammatory foods in your child’s diet. Very often, the same foods that can make sleep more difficult are the same ones that cause inflammation in the body. By reducing inflammation in the body, this will help keep the tonsils, adenoids, and respiratory system working as they should.
  4. Get an air filter. Until your child’s ability to breathe through the nose improves, make sure that the air they are breathing is as clean as it can be. In addition, making sure that their bedding is clean is important.

For many of the children I work with, very often parents have gone down this route to help their child sleep better. In some cases, surgery to remove the adenoids and tonsils has been performed, or CPAP prescribed for the rare few diagnosed with sleep apnea. These can help tremendously.

But, if your doctor has determined that your child’s breathing at night does not require surgery to fix, following a good diet and keeping a clean environment can be huge. And, consider finding a Healthy Start dentist. These dentists specialize in non-traditional orthodontics to improve poor nighttime breathing.

I know that for a parent like you there’s plenty on your plate to worry about when it comes to your child’s health and development. However, if you’ve seen any of the signs above, it’s important to do what is needed to make sure that your child’s sleeping well, healthy, and growing.