Breathing is something we normally don’t think about in our day-to-day. But if you’ve noticed that your child defaults to breathing through their mouth — and not their nose — this could be a cause for concern. Mouth breathing in children can indicate underlying health conditions, affect the development of facial and dental structures, and impact their quality of life.
But is all mouth breathing in child an issue? No, not all. Kids being kids, colds, sickness, and the stuffy noses that come with them are hard to avoid. Occasional mouth breathing caused by illness-induced congestion isn’t typically a worry. And if your child or toddler has seasonal allergies? If they’re only mouth breathing at certain times of the year, it’s likely not affecting them in the long term. The mouth breathing we’re covering here is the chronic kind, where your child defaults to breathing through their mouth most of the time.
Why Is Nose Breathing Better Than Mouth Breathing?
Before we dive into more of what you need to know about mouth breathing, Dr. Scheer and the Shine Orthodontics team first want to talk about the opposite: nose breathing. Nose breathing is definitely better for your child vs mouth breathing. Why? Here are five reasons why nasal breathing is better for your child:
1. Keeps your child’s face in a neutral position:
Nose breathing allows your child’s face to stay in a natural position with their jaw closed, both throughout the day and when they sleep. This is optimal for allowing the proper development of your child’s face structurally, functionally, and aesthetically.
2. Ensures nitric acid uptake:
Breathing through the nose means your child gets the nitric acid they need. What’s nitric acid? It’s a chemical that aids the respiratory system and is only produced in the nasal passage.
3. Allows more oxygen:
Nasal breathing takes in more oxygen vs mouth breathing which improves sleeping and brain activity. Getting more oxygen is especially important for infants, who need plenty of it for their rapidly-developing brains.
4. Contributes to a stronger immune system:
Nose breathing promotes deeper breathing, which assists in the health of your child’s immune system. Kids who mouth breath are more prone to shallow breathing and upper respiratory problems.
5. Helps with gut health:
Mouth breathing can carry bacteria from cavities, since 50% of what’s in the mouth goes to the gut. This can lead to digestive issues. Your child can avoid this if they breathe naturally through their nose.
Causes Of Mouth Breathing In Child: Nasal Obstructions
So why do some kids and toddlers have mouth breathing issues while others don’t? Kids end up mouth breathing usually because of some kind of nasal obstruction. Doctors identify five main types of nasal blockages that lead to persistent mouth breathing:
1.Deviated septum: where the bone and cartilage that divides the nose into the left and right halves is off center
2.Turbinate hypertrophy: when the bones inside the nasal passage are enlarged
3.Concha bullosa: the air-filled cavity inside the turbinate that, if bulging out, can obstruct the airway
Simply put, nasal allergic reactions. Atopy is when your immune system is hypersensitive to certain triggers in the air and in food. The immune response causes swelling in nasal and mucous glands, obstructing airflow.
Nasal mass or polyp
These refer to growths in the nasal cavity that block full breathing through the nose. Whether malignant or benign, nasal masses or polyps obstruct the airway.
Everyone is born with adenoids. For many kids, adenoids aren’t even noticed because their adenoids shrink enough by age four for natural nasal breathing to occur. But for some kids, the size of their adenoids stays too large for their airway, continuing to make breathing through their nose difficult.
This condition is when blood vessels on one side or part of the nose swell up, causing the nasal airway passage to narrow. Kids with vasomotor rhinitis typically breathe easier during the day, with nasal blockage more obvious at night or when lying down on one side.
Signs of mouth breathing in child
Now that you know the major reasons for mouth breathing in kids, what does it look like? It’s fairly easy to spot mouth breathing in children: the most obvious sign is a slightly open mouth at times when their mouth should be closed. Is your child’s mouth open when they’re doing something inactive like watching TV, reading, or playing quietly?
How about your child’s posture? A forward neck and shoulder position can be a sign of mouth breathing. And watch how they eat: mouth breathing in kids can affect how they chew and use their tongue. You might also notice your kid doesn’t close their mouth when eating — not a sign of bad manners, but possibly a sign they have to breathe through their mouth while chewing.
Lastly, does your child sleep with their mouth open, perhaps with their head tilted back? Watch and listen: sometimes mouth breathing at night is paired with snoring; relaxed nasal tissues constrict the airway and make existing nasal obstructions worse.
Common Issues Caused By Mouth Breathing
As we mentioned earlier, mouth breathing in kids can have a serious impact on their development. As your Thornton, CO orthodontist who provides airway treatment, we’ve seen how chronic mouth breathing can affect how a child’s face and jaws grow, impacting their facial appearance, oral health and functioning. Mouth breathing is also linked to some cognitive and overall health issues.
If left untreated, mouth breathing can lead to:
Improper facial development:
Deficient growth in your child’s jaw and midface looks like a long, narrow face, crooked teeth, narrow palate, and receding jaw. Your child’s face could also develop asymmetrically. These facial issues can cause difficulties with chewing, speech, and make your child more susceptible to tooth decay and cavities. They might also suffer from low self-confidence because of their facial or dental appearance.
Mouth breathing in kids can lead to long-term forward head posture and misalignment of the neck, spine, and body.
Muscle Tension: The unnatural way that your child holds their body when they mouth breath can cause muscle tension in the neck and shoulders. It can also contribute to headaches and fatigue.
Sleep Disordered Breathing:
At night, the ability to breathe deeply through the nose is extra important for kids. As we talked about earlier, mouth breathing tends toward shallow breathing when what kids really need — especially at night — is deep breathing for full oxygen and good brain development.
On top of that, deep, restorative sleep is what kids need for energy and focus at school and in their daily activities. Mouth breathing is related to things that take away from a good night’s rest like:
- Restless sleep
- Restless leg syndrome
- Frequent night wakings
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
Obstructive Sleep Apnea:
Yes, kids can have obstructive sleep apnea. It happens when nasal obstructions combine with relaxed nasal tissue, closing off the airway for short periods of time. Once the brain gets the signal that your child isn’t breathing, the body wakes up just enough to activate the relaxed tissue, opening the passage and allowing a big breath in.
You might observe your child experiencing obstructing sleep apnea if they stop breathing for a few seconds, then snort or gasp for breath multiple times a night.
Teeth grinding and clenching:
Children with sleep disordered breathing sometimes also grind their teeth if their jaws don’t align properly: in this case, teeth grinding is a subconscious attempt to fit the top and bottom arches together comfortably.
ADHD and ADD:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) have been linked to childhood airway issues. In fact, increasing evidence shows that about 40% of kids who have sleep disordered breathing issues develop ADHD, ADD, or a learning disability.
What You Can Do To Alleviate Your Child’s Mouth Breathing
As with any health issue, early intervention for mouth breathing is important. If you observe that your child is mouth breathing or they have any of the above issues, the first step is seeing your child’s doctor. Your doctor might also refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist for further evaluation.
Medical airway treatment depends on the severity of your child’s nasal and mouth breathing and their age. Common airway treatments include surgery for nasal obstructions or a CPAP machine and mask worn at night. Your doctor might also prescribe a steroid nasal spray to shrink obstructions, or ask you to try saline sprays to help clear nasal mucus.
Airway Treatment with Orthodontics
Once your doctor has confirmed your child has mouth breathing problems that need help, we highly suggest seeing an orthodontist experienced in airway treatment as well. An orthodontist like Dr. Scheer is an expert in dental and facial development and can pinpoint the face and jaw issues that contribute to your child’s mouth breathing. Trained in dentofacial orthopedics, he can use orthodontic appliances to guide jaw growth and align it to open the airway.
The bonus with airway orthodontic treatment? It helps fix orthodontic issues like misaligned bites and crooked teeth, either alleviating the severity of braces treatment later on or eliminating it completely.
What Orthodontic Airway Treatment Is Used At Shine Orthodontics?
At Shine Orthodontics, airway treatment starts with a unique treatment plan that responds to a patient’s specific needs. The goal with airway treatment is always orthopedic expansion and proper development of the upper jaw and midface to open the airway. To achieve this, we have a variety of orthodontic appliance options to help our patients breathe better, chosen specifically for each patient’s case.
And who can get airway treatment? Kids with mouth breathing issues are definite candidates for orthodontic airway treatment. But we’ve had many adult patients, too. Children as young as 6 years old all the way up to adults may be treated successfully for their upper jaw and midface development and finally breathe easier.
Helping Denver Kids Breathe Easy with Orthodontic Airway Treatment
At Shine Orthodontics, we want to see kids happy, thriving, and breathing easy. Come for a visit at our bright and modern office in Thornton for a consultation with board certified orthodontist, Dr. Scheer. See how airway orthodontic treatment can help unlock your child’s best health!
Contact your Denver, CO orthodontist today.