Pediatric Jaw Development

Pediatric dental hygienists are uniquely positioned to educate parents of infants and toddlers about the importance of proper jaw development. A child’s first dental visit offers an opportunity to discuss how parents can ensure healthy jaw development in their children. Breastfeeding can be particularly beneficial as it provides functional jaw orthopedics and encourages proper airway development. Conversely, pacifiers and sippy cups can hinder appropriate development and should be avoided. When introducing solid foods, parents should opt for healthy, chopped finger foods that promote chewing and jaw stimulation. Dental hygienists can guide parents during the child’s first dental visit. Finally, pacifiers and thumb sucking should be discontinued by the age of three to prevent malocclusion and teeth misalignment. Overall, dental hygienists play a crucial role in promoting proper jaw development and advocating for the health of pediatric patients.

Sleep Apnea in Pediatric and Adolescent Patients

Pediatric and adolescent patients may also suffer from sleep apnea, which is often undiagnosed and can lead to oral developmental issues. Approximately seven to nine million children experience pediatric obstructive sleep apnea (POSA) and sleep-disordered breathing (SDB). POSA/SDB is characterized by partial or complete blockage in the upper airway, often caused by adenotonsillar hypertrophy or enlarged tonsils.

Early detection of POSA and SDB by dentists and a multidisciplinary team (physicians, orthodontists, and other healthcare providers) can improve oral structure development in pediatric and adolescent patients. POSA/SDB is directly correlated with the development of oral structures and speech and language outcomes in children, and if left untreated, can contribute to other health-related complications.

Parents and guardians often do not notice the signs and symptoms of childhood OSA, which include loud snoring three or more nights per week, mouth breathing, and waking with dry mouth or a sore throat. The highest prevalence of POSA/SDB cases is found in children between the ages of 3 and 5. Unlike adults, both sexes are equally affected; however, following puberty, POSA/SDB tends to be more common in males.

Childhood obesity is a risk factor for POSA/SDB, and maintaining a healthy weight can decrease the factors that contribute to it. As BMI increases, so does the risk of POSA/SDB. African-American children are at greater risk for POSA/SDB compared with Caucasians and Hispanics of similar age and BMI due to their steeper mandibular plane angle and steeper inclination of the anterior cranial base.