April 11, 2022
What is Mouth Breathing?
The most common and efficient way of breathing is in and out through a person’s nose, allowing the nasal passages to warm and moisten the air they take in. It also allows for the jaw and tongue to be in the correct position for development.
Although this is the most efficient way, some children and adults breathe through their mouths, which can sometimes be due to nasal airway obstruction. It is a common misconception that a child who breathes through their mouth will eventually grow out of the habit or get orthodontic work to rectify the problem.
Mouth breathing is usually a sign of developmental issues that relate to normal oral, airway and facial growth. Experts are now uncovering the long-term health issues such as sleep disorders and symptoms relating to ADHD that all relate to the improper jaw and breathing patterns in growing children.
Mouth Breathing and ADHD
The US centre for disease control and prevention has reported more than 5 million children aged 3-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. A study analysed more than 11 thousand children over 6 years has revealed that children who suffer from sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, were 50% to 90% more likely to develop ADHD-like symptoms than ‘normal’ breathers. Research also links children with sleep disorders and a higher incidence of behavioural and emotional issues. These could include hyperactivity, aggressiveness, depression and anxiety. Experts also believe that a lack of sleep can damage brain neuron development, which may link to ADHD.
Childhood Teeth Development
When we think about the normal development of the mouth (straight teeth), this would mean that the nasal airways have sufficiently developed. This means that the connection between dental function and breathing begins right from birth. It is also true that people who breathe through their mouth don’t swallow as often because the mouth tends to be dry, preventing normal growth of the roof of the mouth. This can lead to serious consequences of underdeveloped jawbones that can lead to a long narrow face, narrow mouth and receded jaw.
Breastfeeding and Palate Formation
A lot of people are unaware that breastfeeding is directly related to the development of a baby’s jaw and airway, evidence has shown that newborns who are breastfed rather than bottle-fed have reduced problems with airway restriction and therefore better dental health in life. Sometimes a child that bottle-feeds, uses a pacifier or has a thumb-sucking habit may disrupt the flow of air through the airway and there is a risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. The reason breastfeeding plays such a crucial role is the swallowing action of the tongue and creating the vacuum that acts to shape a baby’s palate.
Mouth Breathing and Sleep Apnea
Children with crooked teeth and underdeveloped jaws are an extremely common phenomenon in the modern world. A lack of space in the upper and lower jaws leads to dental overcrowding, leading to the tongue falling back and potentially blocking the airways during sleep and may lead to sleep-disordered breathing.
Myofunctional orthodontic treatment
The restoration of nasal breathing during wake and sleep may be the only valid correction of sleep-disordered breathing. Orofacial muscle training and re-education of normal oral-nasal functions, alongside orthodontic treatment, is a new pathway that can allow a child’s jaw, face and airways to develop the way they are meant to.
Daily facial muscle training, including tongue exercises, termed ‘myofunctional therapy,’ has been reported to help eliminate abnormal breathing during sleep, including detrimental mouth breathing and should be considered when the diagnosis of crooked teeth or child mouth breathing is identified.
Why is it important to tackle mouth breathing early on?
Research has shown that untreated habitual mouth breathing will lead to facial growth abnormalities, sleep disruptions and behavioural changes, particularly at an early stage of development.
The earlier in life the changes to the face take place, such as muscle alterations to the face, jaws, tongue and neck, the greater they will be. Facial deformities can often be too severe for orthodontics to treat and correct, this can mean jaw surgery is required as well as procedures to open the nasal airway.
Nasal airway obstruction is a primary cause of chronic obligate mouth breathing, which has been associated with deleterious health consequences for children and adults. When mouth breathing is left untreated, individuals can develop craniofacial growth abnormalities, dental and orthodontic problems, skeletal and postural changes, sleep difficulties, exacerbation of asthma and various other physiological and social health issues. When children and growing and developing, if they are mouth breathing then their tongue will not be resting in the placate, therefore the tongue cannot provide the ‘mould’ for the upper jaw and teeth to form around.
Signs of mouth breathing:
It is often that mouth breathers experience sleep disturbance. This is due to mouth breathing being less efficient than nasal respiration at introducing oxygen into the lungs and bloodstream. This affects sleep because low blood oxygen concentrations cause the brain to remain in a more aroused state. When the brain is in this state, it interferes with the normal sleep cycle, this means that individuals tend to stay in lighter sleep for longer periods of time and are deprived of deep, restorative sleep.
In conclusion, mouth breathing is not an acceptable substitute for nasal breathing and is nowhere near as efficient. It is important to be aware of the signs of mouth breathing from the early stages to be able to enable early intervention and ensure optimal management of the issue. Re-establishing nasal breathing is particularly relevant for children as left untreated, mouth breathing can significantly impact growth and development.
This blog is written by Olivia Huson, a content executive for Twinkl Educational Publishing
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