Have you ever paid attention to your children’s mouth while they are watching tv, reading a book or even sleeping? Do you see their lips parted, open or completely sealed? Does your child make noises or even snore while sleeping?
Most people don’t realize that mouth breathing is a complex health concern.
The natural position for healthy breathing is always with a closed mouth, inhaling and exhaling through the nose.
Learning how to breathe through the nose instead of the mouth prevents my pediatric patients from a slew of serious health issues in adulthood, including sleep apnea, speech impediments, and improper facial growth.
The Serious Health Effects of Mouth Breathing
• Teeth and braces: If your mouth is open, your braces will take longer and your treatment will be much more challenging for your orthodontist. The spaces between your teeth will be more difficult to close and the stability of the alignment of your teeth will be compromised once your braces are removed. This means you are likely to experience orthodontic relapse and you may need braces again in the future.
• Speech: When children have 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. Speech is affected because when you have an open mouth, you also have what we refer to as a “tongue thrust swallowing pattern.” This type of swallowing pattern causes the tongue to protrude, or push forward during speaking and swallowing.
• Facial growth and development: It’s important to realize that growth is a very powerful force. A child with an open mouth will very likely grow 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 lower jaw in most cases. By closing the mouth and breathing through the nose, these negative growth patterns can be prevented.
• Sleep and oxygen: When adults and children breathe through their mouths during the day, chances are very high that they also breathe through their mouths all night long as well. Mouth breathing at night, combined with an obstructed airway, are two symptoms directly connected to sleep apnea and altered levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the bloodstream. When less oxygen is able to reach the brain, learning and the ability to focus at school becomes a problem for many children. In adults, chronic fatigue, tiredness, and brain fog are common symptoms related to these issues.
What Parents Can Do to Prevent Mouth Breathing
Now that you are aware of these symptoms, you can look for them in yourself or your child. You can get started by doing the following:
1. Monitor yourself or your child for mouth breathing and/or an open mouth resting posture. How often does it occur during the day?
2. Determine if you have any of the airway or breathing issues I mentioned above, or if you’ve had them in the past.
3. Consider talking to a doctor who specializes in breathing and sleep. It may be time to have a sleep study done for you or your child. There are two types—at home, and in-clinic. Your doctor can help you determine the best option for you, and how to get started.
4. Have an evaluation with a myofunctional therapist. They screen patients for all of these symptoms, as well as many others. A myofunctional therapist will often know other specialists and will be able to point you in the right direction at the very least.
Reference: Sarah Hornsby, RDH, Myofunctional therapist