How A Dentist Saved His Son From An ADHD Misdiagnosis

Watch the video above to see how a Seattle airway dentist treated & cured his son’s ADHD-like symptoms

When his 4 year old son was staring down the barrel of a potential ADHD diagnosis, Dr. Jordan Brenner (a dentist in Shoreline, Washington) diligently dug through all the current research he could find on the subject for answers. What he discovered not only saved his son from a lifetime of struggling with medication and/or frustrating symptoms, but also changed the way he practiced dentistry forever.

With rising rates of diagnoses, and a wide variety of common symptoms, many parents worry that their child may have ADHD. This is the position in which Dr. Jordan Brenner found himself.

Here’s his story.

 

My four year old son was having some behavioral issues.

Not in the sense that he would misbehave, but in that he couldn’t control his emotions. I wasn’t seeing him hit some of the developmental markers that we were expecting. He’s a very smart young boy, and we don’t have any problems with him understanding things. His biggest problem was his inability to deal with his negative emotions, known as emotional dysregulation.
I started looking for options. How could we treat him? What do we need to do? What therapies do we need to get in for him?

A lot of kids like him seemed to end up being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.

I didn’t want to just put a blanket diagnosis on him at such a young age, so I kept digging. I researched and talked to colleagues that were involved in airway dentistry.

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It's important to have signs and symptoms of a potential sleep breathing disorder evaluated by a knowledgeable healthcare professional.

I began looking at the bigger picture and connecting other signs and symptoms.

He was sleeping with his mouth open, and we were having problems getting him away from his pacifier, which he’d had for too long. When I completed an oral evaluation on him, I saw that his tonsils were so big they were almost touching.

I realized that the root cause of my son’s behavioral problems could likely be the result of sleep-disordered breathing.

The fact that he was sleeping with his mouth open was actually a huge red flag, and his continued use of a pacifier was actually preventing his tongue and lips from resting in their natural position – with the tongue resting on the roof of the mouth (training the upper jaw how to grow properly) and the lips closed (to allow for nasal breathing, essential for optimal airway function).

Our bodies are designed to breathe through our noses, not our mouths.

Our noses filter out the irritants, the pollutants toxins that are in the air. With mouth breathing, our airways are exposed to all of this. Our body reacts with inflammation, a runny nose, dry itchy eyes. This makes it even harder to breathe through the nose, so we get in this cycle that just perpetuates. In addition to causing or exacerbating allergy symptoms, the tonsils can become irritated and inflamed. That chronic inflammation can cause them to grow large, as in my son’s case.

The obstruction reduces the size of the airway.

In some cases, the tonsils will start to get smaller if we can create proper nasal breathing with the myofunctional therapy, which is training the tongue and lips to be where they’re supposed to be. In my son’s case, however, they were so big, I was concerned how long it may take. We started myofunctional therapy, but also had his tonsils removed to free up his airway faster.

His emotional regulation and behavior started to change almost immediately after opening his airway.

I was able to get him the care he needed, I was able to treat him myself, and I was treating the root cause of his symptoms. And since I was able to catch these problems while he was still so young and still developing, I prevented him not only from potentially a lifelong ADHD diagnosis and treatment, but more importantly from a lifetime of negative health consequences from an underdeveloped airway and sleep disordered breathing.

I decided I would provide the same type of care to my patients in my dental practice.

A lot of adult patients that have sleep apnea may have avoided a lot of their problems if they’d been able to catch and treat it in childhood, as I did with my son. That’s what’s exciting about airway dentistry and craniofacial sleep medicine.

There are certain red flags I advise parents to look out for in their children.

Speech issues or speech delays can be signs of a tongue tie or lip tie. We want to catch those early so we can make sure these children have a chance to develop the way they’re supposed to. 

The behaviors and traits I look out for in kids that are often key indicators for airway problems are mouth breathing (while sleeping or while awake), bedwetting, not sleeping through the night, night terrors, hyperactivity, the inability for them to sit down and complete a task. 

What’s really happening when a kid is so hyper is that they’re not rested properly.

Their behavior is the result of their body constantly having the wrong types of hormones, they’re on this constant sympathetic tone. When you’re sleeping, you’re supposed to be in “rest and digest.” That’s what happens when we breathe properly through our nose. If you see your child with their mouth open when they’re sleeping, we need to address why that’s happening.

Get Evaluated

It's important to have signs and symptoms of a potential sleep breathing disorder evaluated by a knowledgeable healthcare professional.

Parents of children I see with airway problems have often tried lots of other treatments.

It’s common for parents of kids that aren’t sleeping well to try sleep aids, like melatonin. Melatonin itself can be safe, but I’m always looking for non-pharmaceutical treatment for children. If they’re relying on melatonin to sleep now, where are they going to be as adults?

More importantly, drugs and supplements, even if they’re helping, they may just be masking the underlying issues that are really causing the symptoms.

A lot of parents will also take their kids with behavioral problems to see therapists. With my son, behavioral therapy is certainly a part of our treatment – but that’s just part of it. We need to have a collaborative approach to airway problems because it’s multifactorial. Many symptoms of an underdeveloped airway lead patients to Ear, Nose, & Throat (ENT) or allergy doctors.

Most healthcare professionals aren’t trained to look for airway problems.

Physicians and dentists aren’t taught about airway health and craniofacial sleep medicine in school. It’s still a relatively new and growing field of specialized study. With what I’ve seen through my journey, if I could go back and recreate dental school, it would be airway centric.

Everything we do should focus around proper development first, because we should have enough space in our jaws for our 32 teeth. Our wisdom teeth aren’t there by accident. We stopped developing the way we were supposed to, and our jaws are too small now. Our tongues didn’t change size, the soft tissue didn’t change size, but everything’s been compressed into a smaller space now. That’s why we see these airway problems pop up and cause other issues..

Lack of exposure to these topics is the number one reason why we don’t have more physicians or dentists looking at it.

I still don’t understand why every adult patient that has had a heart attack or stroke or high blood pressure isn’t screened for sleep apnea or an airway issue, because we know that people that have untreated sleep apnea are three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack.

I’ve specifically sought education and become certified in this area of airway development and management.

For me, this is a never ending process. As we go down this road, airway is a newer field in dentistry compared to a lot of the other things that we do. We’re finding out more information about it and different treatment methods, and they’re constantly evolving into better options. I’m always looking to see what’s going on now, what’s the next thing, and what are all the issues that I can help alleviate through my practice of dentistry. I’m constantly taking courses in order to make sure that I’m providing the best care to my patients.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours on continuing education in order to earn my knowledge about airway health and craniofacial sleep medicine. I’ve studied with and been trained by doctors that exclusively focus on this type of diagnosis and treatment. I completed training in controlled arch orthodontics, the basis of which is to guide the growth of the jaws to where they need to be and put everything back to an ideal position.

It’s important for parents to be able to make informed decisions about the health of their children. 

I want to make it as simple as possible to find out whether I can help. Parents who are concerned about ADHD symptoms in their children would benefit from having an evaluation and consultation with a craniofacial sleep medicine provider. A great place to start is to take a simple online pre screening assessment.

Get Evaluated

It's important to have signs and symptoms of a potential sleep breathing disorder evaluated by a knowledgeable healthcare professional.

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