Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common disorder that affects about two to five percent of children. While there is some data out there about the risk factors associated with OSA in children and adults, we’re still lacking appropriate research on the predictors of sleep apnea in adolescents.

There are many studies that have shown a positive correlation between obesity and OSA severity in children of all ages and other studies report a correlation between obesity and OSA severity in older, but not younger children. Because most children being studied are younger than 12 years of age, we don’t know the full effects of sleep apnea in adolescents.

What Is the Connection with Sleep Apnea in Adolescents?

A study in JAMA Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery addresses the question, “Which demographic and clinical variables are correlated with severe obstructive sleep apnea in adolescents?” Researchers looked at 224 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 with subjective sleep disturbances. They found that increasing AHI was associated with obesity and tonsillar hypertrophy while severe OSA was predicted by obesity, male sex and tonsillar hypertrophy.

It was also found that a low threshold for obtaining polysomnography to screen for OSA is warranted in obese, male adolescents with tonsillar hypertrophy and symptoms of sleep disordered breathing, according to the study. And as a result, this proves that there is a need for additional large prospective studies on OSA in adolescents.

What Does This Mean for Dentists?

This is great news for the study of OSA in patients. We are already aware of the occurrence among adults and children, but we are often left in the dark for adolescents. And, many times, we might just assume that it is clear here too without information to back it up. With this new study, we can place further resources on adolescent care and providing proper education on how to predict sleep apnea.

As dentists we must continue to take advantage of this knowledge to further help our patients with their understanding of OSA and how we can provide proper treatment options for them. Let’s continue to keep our eyes and ears open to new research that can further help us understand OSA not only in adults and children, but adolescents as well. This will only help us improve the care we provide our patients.

And, as always, please contact us if you have any questions. We have some great upcoming educational courses to help improve your knowledge and understanding of sleep apnea treatment in the dental field.

Author: Mayoor Patel, DDS