It's normal for people to breathe through their nose. And for good reason: Nasal breathing filters contaminants, warms and humidifies incoming air, and helps generate beneficial nitric oxide. Chronic mouth breathing, on the other hand, can trigger a number of harmful effects, especially for the teeth and gums.
Because our survival depends on continuous respiration, our bodies automatically seek out the air flow path of least resistance, normally through the nose. But if our nasal passages become obstructed, as with enlarged adenoids or sinus congestion, we may involuntarily breathe through the mouth.
This can lead to oral problems like chronic dry mouth, which not only creates an unpleasant mouth feel, it also produces the ideal environment for dental disease. And, it could cause an even more serious problem for children during jaw and teeth development.
This is because the tongue rests along the roof of the mouth (palate) while breathing through the nose. In this position, the tongue serves as a mold for the upper jaw and teeth while they're growing during childhood. During mouth breathing, however, the tongue moves away from the palate, depriving the jaw and teeth of this molding effect, and possibly resulting in a poor bite.
You can prevent these and other oral problems by seeing a healthcare professional as soon as you notice your child regularly breathing through their mouth. The best professional for this is an ENT, a medical specialist for conditions involving the ears, nose and throat. ENTs provide treatment for diagnosed obstructions involving the tonsils, adenoids and sinuses.
Even so, persistent mouth breathing may already have affected your child's bite. It may be prudent, then, to also have their bite evaluated by an orthodontist. There are interventional measures that can help get jaw development back on track and minimize future orthodontic treatment.
Finally, a child who has undergone treatment to remove nasal breathing obstructions usually reverts to nasal breathing automatically. But sometimes not: To “relearn” normal breathing, a child may need to undergo orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) with a certified therapist to retrain their facial muscles and tendons to breathe through the nose.
Your child's tendency to mouth breathing may not seem like a major problem. But prompt attention and treatment could prevent it from interrupting their dental development.
If you would like more information on correcting mouth breathing, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Trouble With Mouth Breathing.”