Breathing is something we do automatically to stay alive, so most of us don’t think twice about it. It is perfectly natural to breathe through the mouth at certain times, such as when running or lifting heavy objects, but if breathing is usually done through the mouth, it can lead to many health problems. These problems can be particularly severe for children because breathing through the mouth can affect the long-term development of the face and jaw.
So why breathe through the mouth?
Normal breathing is breathing through your nose with your mouth closed. The most obvious reason a person breathes through the mouth is that they can’t get enough air through their nose. The most common reasons for blocked nasal passages are :
Allergies – which can cause polyps or swelling of the nasal mucous membrane.
Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
Deviation of the nasal septum
Respiratory infections – cold or flu
Signs that may indicate nasal breathing problems or airway obstruction are :
Snoring, sleep apnea
Frequent upper airway infections
Stifling” ringtone during the day/night
Dark circles under the eyes
Effects on teeth, jaw and posture
As mentioned earlier, oral breathing can lead to many health problems, especially dental problems. When we breathe through our mouth, there is a loss of saliva and dryness of the mouth, which can increase the risk of tooth decay and inflammation of the gums.
Also, mouth breathing can lead to changes in the jaw and facial growth. The normal resting position of the tongue is against the palate to compensate for the forces of the cheeks, but when a person breathes through the mouth, the tongue falls out. This causes the upper jaw to narrow and the lower jaw to lengthen, giving the face a long, narrow shape, commonly known as “long face syndrome”. Due to the narrowing of the jaws, tooth crowding, overbite problems and malocclusion can occur.
Adjustment of the head posture is another effect that can result. People who chronically breathe through their mouth tend to tilt their head back and forward in front of their shoulders to keep the airway open. This allows them to breathe better but can lead to long-term neck and back problems.
The treatment of mouth breathing depends on the underlying cause. This requires a multidisciplinary approach where your dentist, your general practitioner, your ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist and your sleep doctor can be involved in determining the necessary treatment. Treatment may include the prescription of certain medications, surgery and myofunctional therapy as well as breathing exercises.
Airway obstruction is a common cause of mouth breathing, and sometimes a full ENT evaluation is required to decide how to treat the block. Often, certain medications can be prescribed to increase nasal airflow and reduce obstructions such as swelling of the nasal mucosa and polyps. For more complex obstructions, such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids, surgery may be required to remove them.
Sometimes, even after the airway obstruction has been removed, breathing through the mouth is still present, as it has become habitual. If this is the case, myofunctional therapy, as well as specific breathing and muscle exercises, can help establish nasal breathing. Exercises to strengthen facial muscles and specific oral apparatus encourage nasal breathing and can, therefore contribute to facial growth and development. This is imperative in young children, as they are still growing.
Your dentist can help you.
Oral breathing is a serious problem that can affect general and dental health. Our role as dentists is to identify and treat oral breathing at an early stage, especially in children, and to refer patients to the appropriate specialists when necessary. The earlier we treat this condition, the more likely we are to reverse its effects. That means a healthier life, a more natural face and profile, and a beautiful smile.
At NIKA DENTAL CENTER, we provide complete family dental care under one roof. You receive quality treatment in a safe environment and in a manner designed to suit your level of comfort.