Misdiagnosed Sleep Issues and Orthodontics: How UARS Can Affect Sleep in Children and Adults

Orthodontics is much more than just the cosmetic straightening of teeth. It’s a corrective process that can be a powerful tool for addressing health concerns that pertain to the mouth, jaw, and your airway.

For many patients, physical issues or abnormalities manifest as breathing problems. Obstructive sleep apnea and upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) are two such examples. But what many people don’t realize is that, in some cases, these issues can be addressed through orthodontic treatments that promote better breathing in both adults and children alike.

What Is Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome?

UARS is a type of respiratory problem similar to obstructive sleep apnea. As a person falls asleep, the soft tissues in their throat and respiratory system begin to relax, which restricts the airway and prevents them from breathing comfortably. Those with UARS generally have trouble staying asleep at night and experience fatigue and lethargy throughout the day.

Most of us are familiar with these types of disordered breathing in some way, as they’re quite common in adults. Sleep apnea alone affects over 22 million Americans. And while most of us think of sleep disorders as adult-onset problems, they can affect children just as easily, and in many cases, go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Airway problems often lead to myriad health issues in young children, and they’re sometimes mis-diagnosed as ADD or ADHD, bed wetting, snoring and anxiety to name a few.

UARS in Children

Sleep-disordered breathing may be less common in children than adults, but it can have serious effects on their well-being all the same.

When children have untreated UARS, they have trouble sleeping—often producing behavior-related problems at school and home. These children may exhibit symptoms similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or experience other sleep-related problems—such as snoring, mouth breathing, or bed wetting—that affect their mood, health, and happiness.

As such, it’s important for parents to keep an eye out for these symptoms and be ready to explore the airway as a possible cause of these problems.

Orthodontic Treatment of Breathing Problems

For those with UARS, breathing problems, or sleep apnea, there are plenty of treatment options to correct the problem before it even manifests in the appearance of the teeth and bite. The options available range from surgical correction to behavior modification to oral appliances. Less invasive approaches are available for adults who prefer to avoid surgery, and they’re often preferable for children as they can often prevent invasive treatment down the road.

One such approach is airway-focused orthodontics that take a holistic, integrated approach to health across tongue posture, jaw alignment, airway development, and tooth positioning. For example, our team includes specialists such as ear, nose, and throat doctors, speech and myofunctional therapists, as well as airway-focused dentists and oral surgeons.

Compared to orthodontic treatments like braces, which primarily resolve crooked teeth, airway-focused ortho treatments are designed to improve oral health and jaw positioning across the board:

– Altering head postures to open obstructed airways

– Balancing the growth of facial structures

– Creating complete alignment of the face and jaws

– Restoring functional development patterns to encourage healthy growth over time

For children, these adjustments support healthy and natural development of airways and tooth structures that can resolve many of the aforementioned issues. An airway-focused orthodontic treatment can help resolve symptoms related to mis-diagnosed ADHD, sleep troubles caused by UARS, mouth breathing, and more.

But sometimes orthodontics isn’t the first treatment priority. It’s important to get ahead of these issues early to ensure your child’s teeth and airways develop in an ideal way that keeps them healthy and happy over their lifetime.

What to Expect at Your Orthodontic Appointment

At Moody Orthodontics, Dr. Moody takes a personalized approach to treating airway problems in growing children, taking into account each patient’s physiology, lifestyle, and long-term growth and health. Those with UARS may receive specialized expanders or implant-supported expanders (MSE, or TAD-supported expanders). They help develop the jaw and improve tongue position overnight, and allow for a more natural positioning of the nasal cavity and decreased airflow resistance when breathing. However, the specific treatment you receive will depend on your physiological needs, as determined by Dr. Moody and the airway team.

We generally recommend that parents bring their kids in for their first orthodontic appointment at age 7. But parents who notice airway problems such as snoring, bed wetting, or mouth breathing should bring children in for a complimentary assessment as young as age 4. Catching these problems early is the best way to stay ahead of the issues and keep them healthy and happy as they grow.

If you have any questions about orthodontic therapies, or airway issues and facial development, contact Moody Orthodontics. We’ll go over all the options and help you or your child breathe properly and lead a healthy and happy life with good sleep.