Your child’s health is a priority. Along with making sure your little one gets enough rest, exercise, and good nutrition, it’s important to schedule regular medical and dental checkups. If you’re concerned that your child may have certain health conditions, your first call will almost certainly be to your child’s pediatrician, who usually can provide a medical solution or a referral to another medical professional. But for certain health issues—even some that appear to have nothing to do with your child’s teeth—a dentist may have the solutions that will fix the source of the problem or problems.
Why would my child’s dentist need to know about her general health conditions?
When you take your child for regular teeth cleanings and dental visits, the hygienist and dentist will check to be sure she’s reaching the appropriate developmental milestones, and will recommend protective steps (such as fluoride treatments) or restorative treatment as needed (such as a dental filling) for her mouth and teeth.
But dentists with special training and experience will also be able to recognize other health conditions as possible warning signs of a dental issue that might not be immediately obvious. That’s why it’s important to tell the dentist about every aspect of your child’s health. Even if you think a health condition is unrelated to dentistry, it just might be.
What kinds of health conditions should I mention to my child’s dentist?
As a parent or caregiver, you might be one of the first to notice that your child is experiencing issues such as these:
- Behavioral issues
- Bite issues
- Chronic colds, runny nose, or sinus problems
- Chronic sore throat
- Difficulty awakening in the morning, despite enough sleep
- Difficulty chewing and/or swallowing
- Daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Facial profile issues, such as a recessed or forward jaw
- Headaches, especially in the morning
- Irritability or aggressive behavior
- Mouth breathing
- Oral habits such as thumb-sucking or refusal to give up a pacifier past age 18 months
- Poor posture
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- School-related issues, such as learning difficulties
- Sleep apnea
- Sleeping restlessly
- Sleeping with head in an unnatural position
- Snoring loudly and/or frequently
- Sore neck, shoulders, or back
- Speech impediments
- Sweating during sleep
- Teeth grinding (bruxism)
Some of these issues, such as jaw issues and teeth grinding, have an obvious connection to dentistry. However, any of the conditions in this list could be a potential sign that your child has an airway issue. If a child’s airway isn’t developing as it should, she’ll likely experience one or more of these issues as she attempts to take in enough air.
How do airway issues cause these health conditions?
Factors such as improper development of a child’s mouth and teeth, or improper positioning of her jaw, can lead to such health problems. If her palate is too narrow, for example, she might struggle to breathe through her nose and instead might breathe mainly through her mouth. The constant intake of dry air could cause her to complain frequently of a sore throat. Her inability to breathe comfortably at night could also make it difficult for her to reach a deep, restful sleep—which could result in behavioral issues, learning difficulties, and more.
How can a dentist help?
A specially trained dentist can help by assessing your child’s facial development and correcting the orthopedic conditions that cause the other health issues. This kind of treatment is especially effective while children are still young and growing.
Every patient’s case is different. For an issue such as a narrow palate, for example, your dentist might recommend a functional appliance such as a palate expander, Invisalign, or a Myobrace. These appliances are designed to work gradually to expand the palate (usually over a period of months) while keeping the patient as comfortable as possible. As the child’s palate expands, her mouth makes enough room for her teeth, and her airway widens. Her previously constricted nasal passages open further, making it easier for her to breathe.
How can I find a dentist with the right training and experience?
Ask about the dentist’s professional partners.
Sleep issues can be complex, and treating them effectively may require more than one professional. Ask whether the dentist works in conjunction with pediatricians, osteopaths, otolaryngologists (ENT doctors), and/or board-certified sleep specialists.
Ask about the dentist’s training.
Look for certifications and training courses from organizations such as the AACP (American Academy of Craniofacial Pain); the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine; and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Some dentists list their training on their practice websites, but if you’re not sure, ask.
Schedule a consultation before committing to a dental treatment plan.
A confident, experienced dentist will be able to answer your questions about their available treatment options, how each option works, estimated treatment timeframes, and the technology involved. In-office technology (such as specialized scanners) may be an additional indication that the practice is skilled and experienced in treating patients with airway issues. Avoid practices that take a “one size fits all” approach.
Look for patient testimonials.
Be sure to look online for detailed testimonials, which can also be very helpful in answering your questions and setting your mind at ease!