Sweet Lullaby - Better Sleep For ChildrenFeb 27, 2023 ● By Marlaina Donato and Kirby Baldwin
Sleep is essential for both survival and the ability to thrive, yet as children’s schedules get busier and they spend more time in front of screens, their average sleep time often decreases. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids between the ages of 6 and 12 get nine to 12 hours of sleep per night for optimal health, they’re regularly getting less, and about 15 to 25 percent of youngsters and adolescents have trouble falling and staying asleep.
In a recent study published in The Lancet, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that children that get less than nine hours of sleep per night have notable differences in areas of the brain that influence memory, intelligence and well-being compared to those that sleep more than nine hours. According to researchers, such insufficiencies in early adolescence can lead to long-lasting neurocognitive consequences.
Why Kids Aren’t Sleeping
Anna Esparham, M.D., FAAP, an integrative medical expert with the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that parents look for clues as to why their children can’t sleep, including stress, increased screen time and less physical activity. However, there may be other underlying issues.
A lesser-known culprit that may contribute to a child’s compromised sleep is impaired mouth syndrome (IMS), a term coined by dentist Felix Liao, a certified airway-centered mouth doctor and past-president of the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine. “Most people, including many dentists, don’t realize the influence that the mouth has on the body,” he says. “The mouth is the portal to the inside. With impaired mouth syndrome, the child can still chew, smile and talk, but the body’s health can be compromised.”
While birth trauma, concussion and viruses can precipitate mouth breathing, and chronic allergies often exacerbate matters, immature swallowing can set off a cascade of problems. The mouth is a critical infrastructure for proper breathing, circulation, digestion, energy and sleep. IMS occurs when jaw development is insufficient, thereby giving rise to numerous difficulties, such as a narrower airway, which can cause hypoxia, or low levels of oxygen. Liao notes that poor sleep quality can also lead to learning and behavioral problems.
“Breastfeeding stimulates bone growth and jaw development through the tongue’s instinctive action and ideally enables a child to have a mature swallow by age 2,” says Amy Dayries-Ling, DMD, FAIHM, a national spokesperson for the American Dental Association. In her book Solve Your Sleep: Get to the Core of Your Snore for Better Health, Dayries-Ling connects the dots between the vital role of the tongue during breastfeeding, balanced stimulation from the vagus nerve and beneficial spaces between milk teeth for a well-developed dental arch.
Correcting Structural Problems
From a holistic perspective, improperly working muscles of the tongue, throat and face or a compromised jawbone can foster a predisposition to a number of seemingly unrelated conditions, including dental problems, teeth grinding, asthma, bedwetting, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, poor growth, swollen tonsils and pediatric obstructive sleep apnea. Dayries-Ling recommends that parents seek out a myofunctional therapist that can help retrain muscles and free up the airway. Building an integrative team is vital, including a dentist trained to address structural issues.
As a board-certified Integrative Biologic Dental Medicine practitioner and naturopathic physician, Bernice Teplitsky, DDS, NMD, FAGD, AIAOMT, owner of Wrigleyville Dental, in Chicago, works with patients to assess potential airway and sleep issues and give recommendations. She and her team also address related conditions in children, including frenectomy (tongue/lip tie) and orthodontic options to correct airway issues.
She says, “The human body was designed to have lips closed together and to breathe in and out through the nose. Similar to a HEPA air filter; the nose has a filtration system that screens out pathogens like bacteria and viruses floating in the air. Mouth-breathers get less oxygen into the body than nasal-breathers. Low levels of oxygen in the body can cause people to be prone to more infections, have trouble sleeping, have weight issues, clench or grind teeth, have depression or anxiety, sleepiness throughout the day and other systemic issues.”
Teplitsky explains, “Many people are not breathing correctly or efficiently, causing them to struggle throughout their day. The body finds ways to compensate accordingly. Poor breathing may not appear obvious to the untrained eye. Sitting or sleeping with lips apart is one of the biggest signs to look for. By detecting this and other signs of poor breathing, we can help both kids and adults intake more oxygen so they can achieve their optimal health. Mouth-breathers should be evaluated by an airway-focused dentist. Sometimes seeing an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist or a myofunctional therapist to retrain the muscles of the mouth is in order. Keeping lips together and the tongue in the correct position is ideal for optimal well-being.”
Dawn Diehnelt, DDS, an airway-focused dentist in Schaumburg, treats both children and adults. At Serenity Dental Studio, she emphasizes creating beautiful faces with good airways, resulting in healthy bodies, and also provides routine dental care such as cleanings and fillings.
“Crooked teeth are not caused by genetics. Cave people did not have crooked teeth,” she states. Rather, mouth breathing and improper tongue position and swallow are usually the culprits. They cause small, narrow jaws without enough room for the teeth. Doesn’t it make sense to correct the cause and help the jaws and face grow to a healthy size?” she says. “Harnessing the power of the body can create amazing results. Everything is connected, as it should be. It’s never too early to get started, and it’s never too late.”
As a member of the North American Association of Facial Orthotropics and a staunch supporter of the Foundation for Airway Health, Diehnelt takes a natural approach to airway dentistry that combines myofunctional approach (tongue and breath training) and the understanding of physiology and anatomy, along with the latest technology.
Marlaina Donato is an author, painter and host of multimedia art exhibits intended for healing the community. Connect at WildflowerLady.com.
Kirby Baldwin is an editor and writer for KnoWEwell, the Regenerative Whole Health Hub and parent company of Natural Awakenings Publishing Corp.