Dr. Dassani has been practicing dentistry for over twenty years. She has in-depth knowledge of orofacial anatomy. And a large focus of her practice is on identifying and treating pediatric sleep apnea and sleep-disordered breathing. Dr. Dassni is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health and works to educate fellow dental professionals, parents, and educators about SDB and other sleep-related issues.
Being able to support speakers in sharing their powerful expertise is a privilege, and I caught up with Dr. Dassani to talk about how she’s made it her mission to bring awareness to the undiagnosed sleep disorders in our children and envision healthy sleep for all children.

Dr. Dassani, at what point did sleep disorders come into your purview? You are a dentist after all.

Growing up, like most kids, I always thought it was funny when my dad snored. There was hardly any awareness or education about snoring or sleep apnea and its effect on health. Unfortunately, this extended into my dental education as well. Losing a family member to sleep apnea was the impetus I needed to dig deeper and learn more about this not-so-silent killer. 
As I went down this rabbit hole of sleep-disordered breathing, I quickly realized that many people needed help. But they were unaware of the different treatment options or that help was even available. 
Another point that struck home was the realization that kids could suffer from this condition as well. As I started to connect the dots, the big aha was that “I” could help, as a dentist. I could impact the growth and development of the airway in children and the structures that surround and make up the upper airway while also incorporating treatment modalities for my adult patients.
I spent (and continue to spend) extensive time researching and going through training toward helping this problem in kids. I have developed protocols that determine the causes and effects of sleep-disordered breathing and developmental growth problems. And these protocols have helped thousands of children get the healthy sleep they need.

How many children struggle with sleep disorders and what are the symptoms that so many parents confuse with behavioral disorders?

An estimated 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have some form of sleep disorder. And between 10-30% of children also struggle with sleep disorders. The prevalence of sleep disorders in children can vary by age, gender, and other factors. 
And let's not forget the children who haven't been screened or diagnosed yet. So I do believe that number is actually a lot higher than what we think it is.
Several symptoms of sleep disorders can be confused with behavioral issues in children. Some of the most common symptoms include...
Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Excessive daytime sleepiness even after a full night's sleep
Irritability and mood swings, which can be mistaken for behavioral issues
Trouble focusing and paying attention in school, which can be misinterpreted as inattentiveness or ADHD
Hyperactivity or impulsiveness, which can also be mistaken for ADHD
When I see a child who may have a possible diagnosis of behavioral issues, one of the first questions I ask is to have their sleep evaluated. We want to ensure the child is not only getting enough sleep but also good quality sleep.

How can we empower parents and educators?

The crux of the issue really is a lack of awareness. I started a movement called "The Healthy Sleep Initiative." And my goal with that is to spread my knowledge and expertise about the symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing and the available helpful resources. 
We need to give parents and educators more information to help them identify the signs of pediatric sleep-disordered breathing. That way, they can be proactive about contacting their healthcare providers to get their children tested and diagnosed so their kids can get the high-quality sleep they need.

What is your vision of the future for kids and healthy sleep?

My vision is for every child who demonstrates signs of sleep-disordered breathing to get screened to see if an underlying issue exists that needs to be addressed. My motto is "Every child screened. Every time!" Every child deserves to get uninterrupted, restful sleep so they can grow and thrive.


Tricia Brouk