The “nose-teeth” connection

Dancing Wombat was in hospital recently. She had an operation on her nose to help her stop grinding her teeth during her sleep, among other things. However, she only had this operation due to a chance conversation I had with my dentist late last year.

For many years, Dancing Wombat has suffered from nasal congestion. She can’t blow her nose, so it’s harder to clear quickly when she has a cold. I figured that was why her runny noses seemed to linger. She snores occasionally – so does her father. She gets extremely hot and sweaty at night, even in light clothing under lightweight covers. Oh well, her dad gets hot, whereas I’m in bed socks year-round. Also, she grinds her teeth at night. She does this so long and so loudly, that it wakes me up whenever we’re sharing a room.

Of all these things, it was the teeth grinding that concerned me most. Dancing Wombat was allergy-tested when she was young, and shown to have no allergies. Consequently, I put her frequent runny noses down to viruses and not being able to clear the gunk away quickly. A “sleep study” some years ago indicated that her sleep patterns were normal, so I didn’t think her occasional snoring was anything to worry about. If she was warm at night, surely that was no bad thing? However, her teeth…

Dancing Wombat’s lovely paediatric dentist has long known about the teeth grinding. We’ve tried using a mouth guard at night, but that was far too hard to manage. So I’ve just had this residual anxiety about whether my daughter would actually have any teeth left by the time she was 25, given the ferocity and regularity of her grinding.

So, to my dentist visit. Having looked at my teeth, she asked whether I ever ground them. Sort of, I replied. I do tend to clench them a bit when I’m feeling pressured. Then I become conscious of what I’m doing, and relax. But you should hear my daughter, I continued. Her teeth grinding is so bad, it wakes me up at night.

Oh, the dentist said. You know you can have an operation to fix that?

Well – never had a visit to the dentist been such a positive experience! She went on to tell me about patients of hers who had problems with teeth grinding. After a minor procedure on their nose, the problem was completely fixed. It seemed almost too good to be true.

Fast forward a month, and Dancing Wombat and I were sitting in the ear, nose and throat specialist’s room. The ENT had a brief look up Dancing Wombat’s nose and wondered aloud how my daughter was able to breathe at all.

She explained about swollen inferior turbinates,  obstructive sleep apnoea and the connection between light sleep and teeth grinding. An operation was absolutely the way to go, and would likely help with the runny noses, overheating at night and the snoring as well. My daughter was caught in a negative spiral, with one thing affecting another, affecting another and so on. It wasn’t just autism and life as a special needs child making my daughter tired – the poor thing probably hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in years. 🙁

Why you should always chat with your dentist

If I’d just lain back in the dentist’s chair, answered her questions and not chatted on, who knows how long it would have taken for us to look once more into Dancing Wombat’s teeth grinding. I might well have continued to put it down to “one of those things” that was hard to manage, given her other issues. But thank goodness I segued from my dental issues to my daughter’s. It just goes to show the value of seizing opportunities for conversation.

We can all learn things in unexpected ways from unexpected people. We never know the ways in which someone might be able to help us if we never engage with them. Being chatty with my dentist opened up a conversation that has led to something potentially life-changing for my daughter.

After all, the value of sleep can’t be underestimated.

So, if any of you have kids who grind their teeth, maybe think about getting someone to look up their nose. It might just be a game changer for them.

Until next time, may you all sleep well and Happy Wombatting!