The natural method for healthy breathing is always with a closed mouth, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Some people are very aware of their open mouth habit, while others have never noticed it. Children are often noticed to be mouth breathing when they concentrate on task at hand, and particularly in their sleep too.
Most people don’t realize that mouth breathing is a complex health concern that can have some serious health effects:
- Teeth and braces: If you breathe through your mouth, your jaws will change shape to become narrower over time, and your teeth are more likely to be crooked. Your braces will take longer and your treatment will often be more challenging. If the mouth breathing habits are not corrected before braces come off, you are more likely to experience relapse and you may need braces again in the future.
- Speech: When children have an open mouth, they are more likely to struggle with certain speech sounds. They can develop a tongue thrust swallowing pattern, which further worsens speech. Children may get teased at school and become poor learners in class.
- Facial growth and development: A child with an open mouth posture will very likely grow into an adult with flatter facial features, a longer face, droopier eyes, a narrower palate, and a smaller lower jaw. If a child is corrected during their growth phase to breathe properly through the nose, these negative growth patterns can be prevented.
- Sleep and oxygen: When adults and children breathe through their mouths during the day, chances are they also breathe through their mouths in their sleep. Mouth breathing at night, combined with an obstructed airway, are two symptoms directly connected to obstructive sleep apnea and reduced blood oxygen. Reduced blood oxygen means impaired learning ability and reduced concentration at school for many children. In adults, chronic fatigue, tiredness, and brain fog are common symptoms related to OSA.
What causes a mouth breathing habit?
It can be difficult to determine the root cause of your mouth breathing habit. However, most people tend to have one or more of these three contributing factors:
- They have (or had) a breathing or airway problem. Many open mouth habits can be traced back to issues such as allergies, chronic colds/stuffy noses, enlarged tonsils and adenoids, asthma, a deviated nasal septum, and much more. The interesting thing to note is that once the airway problem is resolved, the habit often still remains. Many children have had their adenoids removed, but still breathe through their mouth. This is where myofunctional therapy such as Myobrace comes in to retrain muscle, swallowing, and breathing patterns.
- They have (or had) a thumb or finger sucking habit. When the thumb is in the mouth, especially for an extended period of time, the oral and facial muscles will develop around this habit. If the thumb is in the mouth, the lips are not able to form a seal, and a tongue thrust swallowing pattern develops as well. Just because a child stops sucking his or her thumb does not mean the mouth breathing symptoms will go away. The habit is stopped, but the mouth breathing remains. Myofunctional therapy, along with orthodontic treatment, is often needed after a thumb/finger sucking habit has been eliminated.
- They have (or had) a tongue-tie. A tongue-tie is actually a real medical condition—not just a common expression for when someone can’t get their words out. This condition may also be referred to as a restricted lingual frenum, or a tethered tongue. If a patient has this condition, they often need their tongue released through a simple surgical procedure in order to maintain a closed mouth posture. The position of the tongue plays a very important role in nasal breathing, so if the tongue is limited by a physical restraint, it may be very difficult to stop mouth breathing. For patients who have a tongue-tie, I teach them helpful exercises before and after their surgery, and eventually, they are able to close their mouth and breathe through their nose naturally and easily.
Now that you are aware of symptoms related to mouth breathing, you can look for them in yourself or your child.
- Monitor yourself or your child for mouth breathing and/or an open mouth resting posture. How often does it occur during the day?
- Determine if you have any of the airway or breathing issues I mentioned above, or if you’ve had them in the past.
- Consider talking to a doctor who specializes in breathing and sleep. It may be time to have a sleep study done for you or your child. There are two types—at home, and in-clinic. Your doctor can help you determine the best option for you, and how to get started.
- Have an evaluation with a myofunctional therapist. We screen our patients for all of these symptoms, as well as many others. A myofunctional therapist will often know other specialists and will be able to point you in the right direction at the very least.