Mouth Breathing – Your Health and Your Teeth
The way you breathe can greatly impact on your physical and dental health. The body is designed for you to breathe predominately through the nose. The nose filters the air trapping dust particles and allergens.
However, for one reason or another many people breathe through the mouth.
Mouth breathing as a growing child is associated with developmental dental issues like facial shape, jaw shape and crowding of teeth and as an adult with health problems like snoring and sleep apnoea which can have consequences to your health.
Mouth breathing is caused by difficulty breathing through the nose due to:
deviated nasal septum
constricted upper airways
a backward positioned lower jaw often caused by thumb sucking, excessive dummy use or insufficient sucking as an infant.
Not many doctors or physicians know about the impact and consequences of mouth breathing and what to be on the lookout for. However, dentists can and should readily pick up the warning signs if your child is or you are mouth breathing during a regular dental check-up.
Often children who mouth breathe may suffer from abnormal facial and dental development, such as long, narrow faces and mouths, gummy smiles, gum disease and crooked teeth. The poor sleeping habits that result from mouth breathing can adversely affect growth and academic performance leading to poor concentration levels which can be mistakenly diagnosed as ADHD.
Signs of Mouth Breathing
long narrow face
difficulty breathing through the nose
retarded physical growth
dark circles under eyes
short upper lip
pouty lower lip
small jaws and crowded teeth
How Mouth Breathing Affects the Body and Health
Mouth breathing as a child can alter the developmental growth and shape of the face and if it continues on into adulthood it can lead to dental issues and health complications:
altered facial growth
narrow nasal airway passage
forward head posture to get more air
enlarged tonsils and adenoids
a sore throat
poor spinal alignment
lowered immune system
obstructive sleep apnoea
poor performance and concentration levels
Nose breathing is responsible for producing a hormone that regulates normal blood circulation. It also filters, warms and moisturises the air. The lack of oxygen in mouth breathers, who usually snore at night and struggle for air, weakens the immune system, disrupts deep sleep cycles, and interferes with growth hormone production.
Long term mouth breathing can cause poor oxygenation of the blood which is linked to high blood pressure, heart problems and sleep apnoea.
The mouth, jaws and tongue are designed for eating, swallowing and speaking. When the mouth is used for breathing postural adjustments have to occur to ensure enough air can flow. Chronic mouth breathers tend to carry their head forward in front of their shoulders and tilted back to maintain an open airway.
When children chronically breathe through their mouths, it can affect the overall growth and development of their face. A typical facial profile is associated with people who have a long history of mouth breathing. There is a narrow face with a forward head posture, a narrowed or flattened nose with nostrils that are small and poorly developed, a short upper lip, and a “pouting” lower lip.
During nose breathing the tongue naturally rests against the palate and the inside of the upper teeth counterbalancing the pressure of the cheeks and lips. When mouth breathing the tongue sits in the wrong position so the lips and cheeks push on the teeth with no counterbalance leading to narrow jaws, crowding and a restricted nasal cavity.
Ideally, you should breathe through your nose around 8-12 times per minute and the tongue should rest on the palate. Most people swallow around 2000 per day and ideally, the tongue should rest on the roof of the mouth when you swallow. This allows the jaws to develop properly with sufficient room for all 32 teeth.
Mouth or dysfunctional breathing restricts the growth of the jaws and the air passing into the lungs is unfiltered. Mouth breathing also increases the amount of acidity in the body and alters posture.
Mouth Breathing and Dental Health
Tooth decay: mouth breathing drys out the mouth so there is a lack of saliva. Saliva is a natural defence against cavities due to its ability to reduce acid and bacteria build-up on teeth.
Crowded teeth: mouth breathers rest their tongues on the bottom of their mouths, which causes cheek muscles to relax and rest on the upper teeth narrowing the upper jaw and crowding teeth.
Gum disease and bad breath: caused mainly by a poor balance of oral bacteria, a dry mouth and acidity in the body as a whole.
Treatments for Mouth Breathing
Often, patients can fix the problem on their own by using proper breathing techniques, but other more comprehensive treatments like orthodontic braces, intervention from an Ear Nose and Throat specialist or sleep specialist may be needed in some cases.
Individuals with a narrow upper arch struggle to breathe through the nose and so orthodontic correction not only improves the alignment of the teeth but opens the airway making nose breathing much easier and more effective.
Getting the proper treatment for mouth breathing can significantly improve your quality of life and your dental health.
Dr Rachel Hall is the owner, founder and principal dentist of Evolve Dental Healing a holistic dental practice in Kenmore Brisbane.