Is there a right or wrong way of breathing?
Breathing plays a huge part in the healthy development of our children – much more than most people realise! And just like diet and lack of exercise affects our children’s health so does allowing unhealthy breathing habits to kick in. One of these is mouth-breathing. So the right way of breathing is through the nose and the wrong way through the mouth. Nose breathing benefits the body on multiple levels because the nose is super equipped to process incoming air. The nose has a built-in humidifier and filtration system, so when air enters through the nasal passages, it’s warmed and moistened. It is also equipped to sense and destroy harmful bacteria before it enters the body. This means the respiratory system is being supplied with high quality air, which leads to cellular health. Conversely, the mouth will not purify the air before entering the body and this means dust, bacteria, viruses, etc go straight into the lungs and potentially blood stream. This is why mouth-breathing children are more prone to infections! Mouth breathing also causes a lack of oxygen to the brain, which could lead to underdevelopment, and possibly sensory or auditory disorders, such as autism or attention deficit disorder (ADD). This is why it is paramount for everyone, especially new parents, to understand the importance of their child forming good breathing habits.
What are the long-term consequences of chronic mouth breathing?
If a child develops a mouth breathing habit in the developmental years, it is unknowingly programming its body to have a small, set back jaw, a tiny chin and a long face. This is because bones grow in the position they’re ‘trained to’. If the mouth is open, the entire bone and neuromuscular development follows in suit. Besides aesthetic considerations, the person may later suffer from temporomandibular joint problems (TMJ), meaning their upper and lower jaw do not close in a balanced fashion. With an open mouth the tongue does not rest on the upper palate as it should and hence does not retain teeth in their natural wide shaped arch allowing teeth to crowd. Dental hygiene is often worse with mouth breathing children and adults as the air dries out gums and allows caries causing bacteria to take over.
10 Characteristics of Mouth Breathing
- Small and weak looking jaw
- Forward head posture
- Lip incompetency (unable to seal)
- Small, dysfunctional nostrils
- Recurring blocked nose and sinus infections
- Underdeveloped or set back jaw
- Crowded and crooked teeth
- Poor dental hygiene
- Prone to developing colds
- Audible breathing and snoring
Are there at-home steps parents can take to ensure their child breathes through their nose?
Yes! Bad habits may start early, so gently close baby’s mouth when it is sleeping. Do everything you can to ensure your child does not suck the thumb, clench or grind the teeth. You can also incorporate a technique developed by Dr. K. Buteyko called mouth taping, where surgical paper tape is placed over the mouth while sleeping, ensuring the child is breathing through their nose at night. This should only be necessary for a short while to break a night time mouth breathing habit. There are oromyofacial exercises available on YouTube that will help establish healthy habits. Last but not least, engage with an expert such as an experienced breathing therapist or a myofunctional orofacial therapist for optimal results.
What about the kids who suffer from chronic sinus infections?
Recurring sinus infections are common in mouth-breathers and can impede progress in changing to a nose breathing habit. It is important that the underlying breathing dysfunction is addressed and the child learns a nose clearing exercise that will prevent blocked nose and sinus trouble from occurring. Contact me now for more information.
O’Hehir, T., RDH. (2012, September). Mouth Vs. Nasal Breathing. Retrieved from http://www.hygienetown.com/hygienetown/article.aspx?i=297&aid=4026
Chaitow, L., Gilbert, C., Bradley, D., & Chaitow, L. (2014). Recognizing and treating breathing disorders: A multidisciplinary approach, 241-244.
Moeller, J. L., RDH, Kaplan, D. G., PhD, & McKeown, P., MA. (2012, March). Treating Patients with Mouth Breathing Habits: The Emerging Field of Orofaciall Myofunctional Therapy. 10-12. Retrieved from http://wsdha.nakea.net/filestore/PDFs/Moeller_JAOSm-a12_prf1.pdf
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Paul, J. L., & Nanda, R. S. (1973). Effect of mouth breathing on dental occlusion. The Angle Orthodontist, 43(2), 201-206.