Mouth Breathing

The physical, medical and social problems associated with mouth breathing are not recognized by most health care professionals, according to a study published in the January/February 2010 issue of General Dentistry, the peer-reviewed clinical journal of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

"Allergies can cause upper airway obstruction, or mouth breathing, in patients," said Yosh Jefferson, DMD, author of the study. "Almost every family has someone with mouth breathing problems."

Over time, children whose mouth breathing goes untreated may suffer from abnormal facial and dental development, such as long, narrow faces and mouths, gummy smiles, gingivitis and crooked teeth. As Dr. Jefferson notes in his article, "These children do not sleep well at night due to obstructed airways; this lack of sleep can adversely affect their growth and academic performance. If the child becomes frustrated in school, he or she may exhibit behavioral problems. Many of these children are misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and hyperactivity." In addition, mouth breathing can cause poor oxygen concentration in the bloodstream, which can cause high blood pressure, heart problems, sleep apnea and other medical issues.

Nasal Breathing delivers more oxygen to the blood than mouth breathing-Nitric oxide produced in the paranasal sinuses, added to the air reaching lungs is a vasodilator and enhances uptake of oxygen by blood.

Mouth breathing is linked to poor posture and reduced respiratory muscle strength.

Tongue thrusting which is an infantile swallowing pattern that continues beyond 2-4 years of age, is also associated with mouth breathing, causes open bite

95% of head circumference growth for average North American child takes place by the age of 9. Lower jaw development, however, continues till 18.Early intervention with nasal breathing and tongue posture is essential for correct craniofacial growth. The negative effects of mouth breathing on the structure of the jaws and face will have most impact when occur before puberty, so there is only a brief window of opportunity to avoid significant changes in a child’s facial structure.

Treatment for mouth breathing is available and can be beneficial for children if the condition is caught early. We will check for mouth breathing symptoms and swollen tonsils. If tonsils and/or adenoids are swollen, they can be surgically removed by an ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist. If the face and mouth are narrow, dentists can use expansion appliances to help widen the sinuses and open nasal airway passages.

"After surgery and/or orthodontic intervention, many patients show improvement in behavior, energy level, academic performance, peer acceptance and growth," says Leslie Grant, DDS, spokesperson for the AGD. "Seeking treatment for mouth breathing can significantly improve quality of life."