It might seem like a minor or even silly thing to be concerned about but mouth breathing is a complex health concern with serious consequences such as sleep apnea, speech impediment, compromised facial structure, and even slower growth in young children.
What do we know about mouth breathing? Is it a habit or a problem? For some people it is the former; their mouth naturally rests in the open position if they don’t focus on keeping it closed. Other people breathe through an open mouth, which is medically known as “open mouth resting posture.” However, the natural mouth position for healthy breathing is with the mouth closed, while air is transferred through the nose.
The Nose Knows
The human body is a fascinating vessel and we can breathe through our noses, mouths, or both; but we function best when taking in oxygen through our noses. That protuberance in the middle of our faces does more than just inhale and exhale; it keeps us healthy in all kinds of ways.
The little hairs lining the inside of your nose and nasal passages make up a strong defensive line to battle viruses, bacteria, fungus, or nuisance spores. Your nose also humidifies and warms the air you breathe, making it more conducive to better respiratory health. Did you know that your nose also produces nitric oxide? Nitric oxide boosts your cardiovascular and immune systems and nasal breathing transports it to your lungs and bloodstream.
People with a bad cold and stuffy nose often breathe through their mouths out of necessity and then resume nose breathing when the cold subsides. However, persistent mouth breathing for weeks or months is a sign of more serious problems, and this is especially true for children.
What Causes Mouth Breathing in Children?
Several culprits contribute to chronic mouth breathing in children, including allergies and enlarged tonsils. Allergies are likely to push children to breathe through the mouth which can then lead to nasal congestion, persistent clearing of the throat, or coughing. And with the usual loss of sleep that goes along with these conditions, a child might be fatigued and have trouble concentrating.
Chronic mouth breathing can also lead to dental issues. Our saliva contains beneficial antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory elements and breathing through the mouth creates dryness; a decrease in saliva then opens the door for infection or inflammation, and can also cause gingivitis.
Can Mouth Breathing Cause Serious Health Issues?
The short answer is yes, very much so. Let’s look at a few potential problems related to mouth breathing:
- Children with open mouth habits are likely to struggle with some areas of speech. This is commonly seen in difficulty pronouncing “s” sounds, also known as a lisp. Speech can also be affected in other ways because open mouth is accompanied by what is called a tongue thrust swallowing pattern, in which the tongue pushes forward when speaking or swallowing.
- Sleep and oxygen processes are often affected by mouth breathing. If a child breathes through her mouth during the day it it likely she will do so all night as well. Mouth breathing at night is directly associated with sleep apnea and erratic levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the bloodstream.
- For children with braces, mouth breathing can make the spaces between their teeth difficult to close together and affect the stability and alignment of the teeth. This of course presents orthodontic challenges and may result in dental relapse requiring braces again at a later time.
- A growing child endures many amazing and very powerful forces but mouth breathing can have a dramatic effect on the end result. A child with chronic open mouth habits is likely to grow with flatter facial features, less prominent cheekbones, less muscle tone, and sometimes a smaller lower jaw. Closing the mouth and breathing through the nose can prevent such negative growth patterns.
Indeed, potential health hazards related to mouth breathing can be concerning but it is not all doom and gloom. Treatment methods are available and relatively straightforward. With enlarges tonsils or adenoids, for example, surgery might be the best option. Allergies can often be regulated with antihistamines.
In all cases, it is critical not to ignore the symptoms and seek treatment right away.
For more information about mouth breathing and other children’s dental needs, contact San Diego Children’s Dentistry at (858) 524-3202 or sandiegochildrensdentist.com.