It is quite common for parents to be unaware of whether their children chronically breathe through their mouth during sleep, or even the day time.
Whilst it is normal for children to breathe through their mouth when they have a cold, chronic mouth breathing contributes to abnormal facial growth and dental development and tooth crowding. It also leads to poor sleep due to obstructed upper airways, and this sleep can adversely affect their growth and academic performance.
Mouth breathing is usually treatable if appropriate therapy begins early. Untreated mouth breathing leads to underdeveloped jaws and reduced tongue and airway space which will ultimately leads to Obstructive Sleep Apnoea later in life.
As dental professionals, we are well positioned to assess for mouth breathing symptoms. By working with well informed medical colleagues to treat mouth breathing early, many of the adverse problems can be reduced or avoided.
Signs of mouth breathing we assess for
Open mouth posture
Dry mouth with inflamed gums and increased risk of decay
Increasingly long and narrow face
Narrow high vaulted palate
Crowded teeth or lack of spacing between baby teeth
Allergic shiners– dark circles under the eyes
Forward head posture
How does mouth breathing impact facial growth and dental development?
This video demonstrates how mouth breathing is one of the major contributors towards poor jaw development and crooked teeth.
Prominent Australian myofunctional orthodontist Dr John Flutter explains further how chronic mouth breathing has a negative impact on our teeth and face.
Why is nasal breathing vital for good health?
Nasal breathing is the most efficient way for the body to absorb oxygen. Nitric oxide is produced in the nasal sinuses, secred into the nasal passages and inhaled through the nose. It helps increase the lung's ability to absorb oxygen and raises blood oxygen levels.
The nose is well suited for breathing because it warms, humidifies and filters the air to prevent bacteria and particles entering the lungs. Mouth breathing leads to chronic irritation of the airway and can result in enlarged adenoids and tonsils in children.
Can mouth breathing affect behavior and school performance?
A landmark study links mouth breathing, snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea from as young as 6 months to significantly increased risk of the development of behavioural and social difficulties by the age of 7. This is thought to be due to the impact of poor quality sleep during this early critical period of brain development when a child needs the most sleep.
This study was unique as it followed 11,000 children over 6 years so provided the strongest evidence that these problems could result from mouth breathing, snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea.
It highlights the importance of investigating and managing mouth breathing in children as young as 6 months old.
The video below shares one mother's story of her search for answers for her "troubled kid" and it also highlights the importance of investigating sleep and mouth breathing in children with behavioural and learning problems. It also highlights the role of a dentist who understands jaw development.
Common causes of obstructed nasal breathing?
Obstructions of the nasal passage way create a domino effect and impact the overall health and wellbeing of patient. The most common causes include
Allergic Rhinitis. This is the inflammation and swelling caused by allergens in the mucous membranes of the nasal passages. The most common allergens in allergic rhinitis are dust mites, animal dander, grasses and pollens.
Deviated septum. This is when the bone and cartilage between both sides of the nose tends to collapse and deviate in the nose. It is particularly common in people with narrow upper jaws. It is possible with expansion of the upper jaw that the deviation tends to correct itself on it’s own.
Tonsils and adenoids. Tonsils and adenoids are sacs of lymphatic tissue that filter bacteria and viruses that enter the mouth and nasal passages. They differ from other lymphatic tissues in the body because they tend to outgrow their usefulness as a person gets older. Evidence demonstrates that removal of enlarged tonsils and adenoids does not compromise immune function due to the presence of lymphatic tissue in other areas.
It is important to note that addressing these causes of obstructed nasal breathing does not automatically convert a child to nasal breathing. Mouth breathing is a habit that may take some training and professional assistance to break.
Our role in managing mouth breathing and it’s consequences
Assessing for mouth breathing symptoms and screening for enlarged tonsils
Identifying the child at risk of nasal obstruction and organizing appropriate referrals
Redirection of normal facial growth and dental development through myofunctional therapy or dentofacial orthopaedics
Due to the impact that mouth breathing has on facial and dental development it is important that your child be seen for an orthodontic evaluation no later than the age of 7.
Book a consultation with Dr Lim.