Approximately ten percent of children ages 6-8 have sleep-disordered breathing, according to a recent Finnish study. The risk is higher among children with enlarged tonsils, crossbite and convex facial profile. Unlike in adults, excess body fat is not associated with sleep-disordered breathing in this age group.

Recognizing the risk for sleep-disordered breathing at an early age allows an early intervention to prevent the progression of the disease, according to the study’s authors. The diagnosis and treatment of children’s sleep-disordered breathing is best carried out in cooperation involving dentists, pediatricians, ear, nose and throat doctors, as well as parents.

The study was part of the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) study led by the Institute of Biomedicine at the University of Eastern Finland and was published in the European Journal of Pediatrics. The study involved 512 Finnish children ages 6-8 who constituted a representative sample of the population in their age group. Their lifestyles and health were examined thoroughly, including an evaluation of their craniofacial morphology and dental occlusion.

The results indicate that some of those at risk for obstructive sleep apnea as adults could be identified already in childhood. Removing both the adenoids and tonsils remains the main treatment of sleep-disordered breathing symptoms in children. Orthodontic treatment may also be useful, offering ways to control the development of the jaws and to prevent the development of craniofacial traits predisposing to sleep apnea, in addition to shaping the dental arch and occlusion.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine considers sleep disorders an illness that has reached epidemic proportions.  Board-certified sleep medicine physicians in an AASM-accredited sleep center provide effective treatment.  AASM encourages patients to talk to their doctors about sleep problems or visit for a searchable directory of sleep centers.