What is mouth breathing?
Most of us don’t take the time to stop and think about whether we are breathing through our nose or mouth, but some people almost exclusively breathe through their mouths. When this happens, a whole host of systemic health problems can arise.
“How,” you may ask, “can something as simple as breathing through your mouth or nose cause health problems?”
Our nasal passages were designed to filter the air we breathe in and control the temperature of the air that reaches our lungs—our mouths don’t do any of that for us. While we are breathing through our mouths, the air we are taking in is unfiltered and likely the wrong temperature. When children breathe through their mouths consistently, the posture of their mouth and tongue position is completely changed, affecting the growth pattern of their jaw, palate, and teeth.
Mouth breathing also will cause the oral tissues to dry out, resulting in a host of dental issues. Before we look at the problems that inhaling through our mouth can cause, let’s touch on the causes of mouth breathing.
What causes mouth breathing?
Mouth breathing can begin at any point in life, but is often traced back to early childhood. A tongue tie can hold the tongue at a lower than optimal position in the mouth, which can change the growth pattern of the palate, resulting in not enough space for nasal breathing. Nasal blockage is a common cause for inhaling through our mouth.
Some types of nasal blockages include:
- Deviated septum.
- Nasal allergies.
- Enlarged adenoids.
I know what you’re thinking now—these are commonly seen in children. Yes, they are, and that’s why it’s so important to be aware of the repercussions that can happen over time as your child grows.
1. Changes to the Growth Pattern of their Face
With a good facial posture, the lips are closed, the teeth are closed, and the tongue is resting gently against the upper palate. People who are mouth breathers tend to have a low tongue posture. In children, this can cause the face to be long and narrow, and cause the palate to be narrow and high.
2. Dental Crowding
As you might guess, when the palate is narrow and high, there is less space for the teeth to come in straight. Statistics show that as many as 45 percent of children need braces to correct functional problems. Why is it that so many of our kids these days are developing crooked, crowded teeth? Mouth breathing has a direct impact on the structure of the teeth.
3. Tooth Decay
Mouth breathing causes changes to the pH levels in the mouth, and those higher levels of acids burn through tooth enamel faster than normal. Inhaling through our mouth also causes a reduction in saliva, which is detrimental as saliva is responsible for washing away much of the bacteria that accumulates on our teeth. Saliva also provides calcium, phosphate ions, and fluoride, which helps keep our teeth strong.
4. Gum Disease
Mouth breathing dries out the gums and tissues inside the mouth. Not only does this hamper the beneficial effects of your saliva (see point #3), but the constant flow of air on your gums changes the balance of microbes in your mouth, which can lead to an increased risk of gum disease.
5. Behavior Changes in Children
Children presenting with ADHD should always be evaluated for mouth breathing. There is evidence that sleep deprivation and ADHD can present with similar symptoms, and some children may be being misdiagnosed with ADHD when they are suffering from a sleep disorder. It’s really important that a child’s whole health is assessed if there are behavioral red flags, and that includes your dentist, who is specially trained to identify and treat these issues. .
6. Mouth breathing affects the whole body.
Let’s discuss what happens systemically. When we breathe through our mouth, there is a change in the amount of oxygen we absorb. Our nose produces nitric oxide, which is an essential molecule for overall health. It works by aiding the transportation of oxygen to your body. Breathing through your mouth misses this essential element, and because mouth breathers may not be getting enough oxygen to their organs, they are at a higher risk of problems such as high blood pressure and heart failure.
How is mouth breathing treated?
The sooner mouth breathing can be identified and the underlying condition addressed, the better the outcome will be. First, the root cause needs to be found. If there is a nasal obstruction, that needs to be treated. A myofunctional therapist can work with you by instructing you in oral strengthening exercises, which can improve your mouth posture and reduce inhaling through our mouth.
If you are concerned that you or your child may be suffering from mouth breathing, book an appointment at Ada Smile Place today. We have dentists who are trained in myofunctional therapy and can evaluate you for mouth breathing. We’ll help you get a good night’s rest in no time!