We all have a tendency to breathe through our mouths when our mouths are open. This, however, should never be how we receive the majority of our oxygen. Typically, adults only breathe through their mouths when there is inflammation or blockage (due to illness or sinus pressure) and it ends as the inflammation ends. There are the exceptions; those who are born or become mouth breathers in toddlerhood. These individuals tend to have problems throughout their lifetimes that can all be linked back to how they breathe.
Structurally, the tongue no longer supports the maxilla (the upper jaw) if mouth breathing occurs. With the removal of this support, the roof of the mouth behind the maxilla will rise and cause congestion to the nasal passages. Mouth breathing can quickly dry out the mouth and decrease saliva production, even increasing the overall pH. Saliva is extremely important for neutralizing acid and helping to wash away bacteria, without it, the chance of tooth decay and cavities increases.
If braces have already been put in place on a mouth breather, the overall treatment plan will take longer and be more difficult. The spaces between the teeth will be more difficult to close and the stability of the alignment of will be compromised once the braces are removed.
Not only does mouth breathing impact teeth, but it is linked to attention and focus deficiencies, behavioral issues, and speech impediments. When children breathe from an open mouth, they are more likely to struggle with certain speech sounds. The most commonly associated speech problem is a lisp, or the inability to say “S” sounds correctly. The type of swallowing pattern to produce this sound causes the tongue to protrude during speaking and swallowing.
Mouth breathing has the ability to cause neuro-cognitive deficits and cardiovascular problems. It also impacts the facial growth and development. A child who breathes this way has a high chance of growing into an adult with flatter facial features, less prominent cheekbones, a longer face, droopier eyes and lower facial muscle tone, a narrower palate, and even a smaller and lower jaw than what she was originally designed to develop.
The most well-known side effect though is sleep disordered breathing. It can be defined as an upper airway resistance syndrome to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) with secondary growth impairment, but in common terms it is known as a form of sleep apnea, snoring, or just plain open-mouth breathing during sleep. Less oxygen is taken in during the night by a mouth breather, and when less oxygen is able to reach the brain, the ability to focus throughout the day becomes a problem, as does learning. This can also lead to chronic fatigue, tiredness, and brain fog.
What if Your Child is a Mouth Breather?
If you are noticing that your young child’s mouth is always open throughout the day and/or over night as she sleeps, it is a red flag to stop and dig a little further into the situation. If she is not sick and this is her normal sleep habit or every day breathing method, you will want to bring it up with your pediatrician, chiropractor, or doctor of choice.
The most common reasons for chronic mouth breathing include:
- Anterior tongue tie
- Posterior tongue tie
- Tongue placement habits
- Enlarged tonsils
- Enlarged adenoids
- Food allergies
- Environmental allergies
- Underdeveloped facial and cranial bones
- Neuromuscular disease
An infant’s facial and cranial development during pregnancy plays a large role in their breathing method. Undesirable positioning in utero, birth trauma, or nutritional deficiencies created in utero, can impact development of the cranial and facial bones in a negative manner. With 85% of the nasal airway in the maxilla, this underdevelopment can be the root of a mouth-breaker’s issues. Working with therapists and utilizing chiropractic care together can provide a foundation for a lifetime of better breathing.
Depending on the cause of your child’s mouth breathing, one of the following may be suggested:
- Tongue tie clip
- Rapid maxillary expansion
- Distraction osteogenesis
- Continuous positive airway pressure
However, before agreeing to surgery, contact a local Myofunctional Therapist. The specialized therapist can retrain your child to breathe properly through her nose with exercises and routines, preventing surgery and a lifetime of chronic problems.
It is important to note that research has found that children who lead a life at an obese weight are more prone to experiencing an onset and reoccurrence of mouth breathing and the effects it can cause. Help your child lead her healthiest life by providing high quality foods and ample time to burn energy.