Nothing feels better than a stomach full of food when hungry, a mouthful of water when thirsty and a lungful of cold night air when jumping around as a kid! What is even more pleasing is the sight of the child enjoying these, especially when you are a mother! When being a mom defines your every breath, the mere mention of breathing problems in a child can trouble you very much. Mouth breathing is one of the issue in children, and it must be tended to with care as it may potentially lead to problems in the growth of face & jaws. However, you need not be alarmed since a complete analysis of mouth breathing causes, symptoms can help arrive at effective mouth breathing treatments.
1. Is it Normal for Children to keep their Mouth Open (Lips Apart)
Babies are considered to be obligatory or preferential Nasal Breathers. However, over a period of growth, often due to nasal occlusion due to nasal congestion, enlarged tonsil/adenoids, developmental abnormalities, deviated nasal septum, chronic allergies, stress & anxiety, sinus infections and bottle feeding etc. Children may start breathing with their mouth open.
2. How Mouth Breathing affects Growth & Development of the Face & Jaws
During Nasal Breathing the Tongue rests on the roof of the mouth i.e Palate, which is necessary for the growth of the Maxillary Jaw (middle third of the face). When a child breathes from the mouth the tongue drops down from the palate leading to an Open Mouth Posture which leads to clockwise rotation of lower jaw – Long Face often called as Adenoid Face. It also leads to Narrowing of the palate, V shaped Dental arch, Proclined Incisor teeth, Retrognathia of Mandible, etc.
Also when tongue comes off the palate child starts thrusting the tongue against the teeth while swallowing (Remember As the Child grows the child should keep their tongue against the palate while swallowing instead of the teeth). This tongue thrusting again contributes to crooked teeth.
Mouth Breathing can also lead to Dry Mouth, Increased Plaque, Bad Breath in children, Gingivitis (Gum disease) etc
Just as good exercises for the body helps in growth of the body, similarly exercises of the jaws by chewing adequate amount of fruits & vegetables for proper growth of the jaws which will help to prevent crooked teeth. With advent of soft/processed and refined diet, children often tend to swallow without adequate chewing which can also promote inadequate growth of the jaws.
Also, with Increase in the levels of Pollution leading to increased respiratory problems, children often end up breathing from their mouth. This can potentially lead to incorrect growth of Face & jaws and also contributing to crooked teeth.
All these factors contribute to the increase in the need for Orthodontic Braces for alignment of the teeth
3. Why is Nasal Breathing important?
Nasal Breathing is very important as it not only serves the purpose of purifying the air but it also play a crucial role for adequate development of the face and jaws.
Nasal breathing purifies the air with the help of the nasal hair which filters large particles, the mucosa on the nasal conchae filter out the small particles. Nasal Nitric Oxide gas (NO gas) is produced in mammalian cells by specific enzymes and is believed to play a vital role in many biological events including serving as the first line of defence against the microorganism by their antiviral and antibacterial activity and by up regulating of ciliary motility in sinuses which help to flush out particulate matter
4. What other effects can Mouth Breathing have on the Body
Apart from the effect it has on the Growth of Face & Jaws, Mouth Breathing can often lead to Over-breathing which can decrease cell & tissue oxygenation by suppressing the Bohr Effect. It can also lead to
- Anxiety, Stress,
- Slouching posture
- It can possibly also lead to infections/allergies as the first line of defence (i.e Nose) is bypassed.
- Research has shown that teeth grinding, bedwetting can also be associated with Sleep Disordered Breathing*
5. What should I do if my child keeps his/her mouth open
Often occasional mouth breathing is corrected by medications/decongestant as prescribed by a Pediatric ENT/Pediatrician.
However If a child is a habitual/chronic mouth breather a multidisciplinary approach is required where along with the assessment by the Pediatrician/ Pediatric ENT/ Otorhinolaryngologist, a dental professional who specializes in Myofunctional Therpy or a Pediatric Dentist may advise Oral Myo-functional Appliance Therapy along with Oral Myology exercises. This therapy uses Oral Myofunctional Appliances along with Oral Myology exercises to train the child to breath with the mouth (lips) closed and to keep the tongue on the roof of the mouth.
*Mouth Breathing may also be associated with Sleep Disordered Breathing & Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea requires a consultation with a specialist as it may impair the growth & development of the child. Consultation with Pediatrician/Pediatric ENT/ Otorhinolaryngologist is a must. A pediatric dentist may prescribe Growth Appliances like Myofunctional Appliances & Oral Myology exercises which may help in the growth of the Jaws which may help relieve the symptoms of Apnea.
6. Is Mouth Breathing a Vicious Cycle
Often repeated allergies and infections can cause habitual/chronic mouth breathing. This leads to narrowing of airway, increased mucus secretion in nose, enlargement of tonsils etc. These factors may partially block the airway which may promotes more mouth breathing. This may continue as a vicious cycle. Mouth Breathing and Airway Obstruction may be the cause as well as the consequence of one another.
It is indeed worth noting that we should get back to our roots, in Yoga where we are taught correct breathing techniques where emphasis is given on Nasal Breathing. So Breathe from your Nose, Chew your food properly and smile your way to good jaws & teeth
Also read: Normal Respiration Rate In Children