Mouth breathing in adults creates health issues, some of which are snoring, bad breath and obstructive sleep apnea. A healthy adult normally breathes through the nose while resting or doing light exercise. Excessive mouth breathing dries out the mouth, which can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. With mouth breathing, the air is not filtered and warmed as much as when inhaled through the nose, possibly causing a dry scratchy throat or lung infections.
Mouth breathing in children poses special problems. Mouth breathing can result in oral and facial damage that will affect a child his or her entire lifetime unless it is diagnosed and treated as early as possible. If diagnosed before a child is 5 years old, the effects can usually be completely corrected or avoided.
Allergies, swollen tonsils or adenoids can cause the inability to breathe through the nose leading to mouth breathing. These conditions can result in changes in the facial structure, a smaller mouth, or crooked teeth.
Having a frequent runny nose, ongoing colds, recurring earaches and sore throats are not part of a normal childhood. They might be dismissed as signs of allergies. However, they might be a result of mouth breathing. There is cause for concern when a child or adult is forced to breathe through their mouth.
Problems resulting from mouth breathing in children
• A deformed jaw can be the result of mouth breathing. Jaws don’t grow together correctly so problems with the bite may develop, usually crowded teeth and a severe overbite.
• The child’s head may tend to pull forward to compensate for breathing problems, resulting in a “chicken neck” appearance.
• A child might develop a long, narrow face and narrow nasal passages.
• The shoulders or collarbones may roll forward.
• Tongue thrusting may result in problems with swallowing, talking, or the position of teeth.
• Headaches, earaches, and jaw pain may result.
• Children who breathe through their mouth may be smaller in height or weight than others in their age group.
• Mouth breathing can cause the tonsils and adenoids to enlarge, which constricts airflow, which can result in OSA [obstructive sleep apnea] and/or SIDS [sudden infant death syndrome].
• The child may become more self-conscious or lose self-esteem because of these changes in the appearance. Mouth breathing in public is sometimes considered to be less socially acceptable or attractive than nose breathing, as mouth breathers can appear to have a somewhat “slack jawed” look.
• Mouth breathing can cause dry mouth and exacerbate bad breath.
• A child who has trouble breathing may not do well in school and also may shy away from physical activity.
Because upper airway obstruction is an obstacle to normal facial development, a mouth-breathing child deserves prompt attention before growth has proceeded irreversibly. If these problems are not corrected, a child will usually need orthodontic treatment.
Symptoms of mouth breathing
According to the Academy of General Dentistry, children who are mouth breathers may show any of these symptoms:
• Face that is long or narrow.
• Eyes that often form tears or dark circles.
• Nose that is difficult to breathe through.
• Mouth that is smaller than usual.
• Teeth that are crowded.
• Lips that are large or dry.
• Chin that appears small or weak.
• Jaw that juts forward.
Sometimes a child has an unusual head, neck and body posture because he or she is trying to overcome the lack of air. To prevent, identify, and correct potential problems with mouth breathing, children should be evaluated for orthodontic treatment between the ages of 5 and 11. At this stage, the jaw and teeth are still growing, so they will be easier to treat. The earlier this condition is addressed, the more likely that the effects can be reversed. A thorough evaluation and a treatment plan can be established.
The results? A child will have less pain, easier oxygen intake, and a better night’s sleep, along with a more natural profile, and a beautiful, healthy smile. In short a child can catch a breath of fresh air!
Enjoy Life and Keep Smiling!
George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@ malkemusdds.com. Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at http://www.malkemusdds.com