According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 10 babies born in the United States are premature babies, which is prior to the 37th gestational week. As a result of preterm births, infants typically have significantly lower nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal volumes. This is compared to newborns carried to full term. These lower airway volumes are also independent of the infants’ gender, ethnicity or weight. What the study in the journal Clinical Imaging found was that because of this, premature babies are more susceptible to disordered breathing while sleeping, which includes obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

What is the Connection to Premature Babies?

In addition to lower nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal volumes, premature babies had similar hypopharyngeal volumes. This suggests risk factors that lead to OSA are confined to the uppermost airway and don’t appear to as enlarged adenoids or tonsils.

The study looked at 96 infants who had undergone brain MRIs as part of an unrelated study about neonatal brain development. These newborns exhibited a range of medical conditions, including cardiac disease and seizures or movement disorders. About 49 of the infants were born preterm and 47 were born full term. The preterm infants had an MRI at a gestational age of 38.4 weeks while the full-term babies were 1.7 weeks.

While the team that conducted the study will be looking to incorporate a larger group of infants to determine whether narrowing of the uppermost airways predisposes very young child to OSA later in life, it still places a strong importance on caring for our children. This is a step in the right direction to understanding there is a connection, but we will continue to look for more.

How Can We Help?

As dentists, it is important to complete continuing education courses in dental sleep medicine. While a majority of our patients will be adults, we should still be prepared to treat children. From this study we can see that OSA will only continue to become more prevalent among individuals if we don’t educate them–especially with parents.

Take this information and be on the lookout for signs and symptoms in your pediatric patients. And if you know one of your patients was born preterm, that is even more reason to continue the conversation with the parent. Once they know more, they are better prepared to help their patients by looking for the signs.

Contact us today to learn more about OSA in children and how you can take the next step toward improving your knowledge and the services you offer in your dental practice.

Author: Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS

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