Updated: May 12
Growing up, many of us received gentle reminders to close our mouths and breathe through our noses. Much like keeping our elbows off the table, we were told it was just something we should do to be polite. But did you know that request to breathe through your nose was actually important for your long-term health though? It's true!
While breathing through your mouth can come in handy when your body is requiring more oxygen than normal, like when running or needing to fill your lungs with air before diving underwater, breathing through your mouth consistently causes long-term health issues.
Breathing through our mouths during these brief periods of exercising or stress helps to adjust the oxygen flow in our bodies as needed. It can also increase our adrenaline and trigger our fight-or-flight response system.
However, as a standard operating procedure, breathing through our mouth for extended periods of time creates a dysfunctional use of our upper airway system. When used incorrectly it can cause maladaptive responses, leading to long-term health issues.
One of the most critical times for breathing through your nose is when you sleep. Mouth breathing while sleeping can lead to a number of short-term issues, such as grogginess and dry mouth, but more importantly, continual mouth breathing can lead to the long-term airway, heart, and cognitive issues.
Why Is Breathing Through Your Mouth Important?
There are several reasons why breathing through your mouth is so critical to your overall, long-term health. Here are three we believe are most compelling:
Breathing through your nose can lower stress levels. Nose breathing brings 18% more oxygen to your brain which promotes better, full-cycle sleep patterns, and can lower your heart rate. Achieving this regenerative, lower-stress sleep allows your body to better repair itself, leads to better cognitive functioning, and lowers levels of stressful adrenaline...returning your body to a more restful state.
Breathing through your nose allows it to do the job it was designed to do --- it warms, filters, and moisturizes the air during the intake process before the air hits your throat or lungs. Air that doesn't go through this process can cause dry mouth and mucous. Increased mucous can lead to an increase in congestion and an increase in congestion can impact your body's ability to properly intake air. A lack or lower consumption of air can impact brain function, memory, and your body's ability to fight infection.
Mouth breathing has common side effects including chronic bad breath, bleeding gums, frequent cavities, and shifting or loosening teeth. When you breathe through your nose you are also protecting the health of your mouth.
How Can Mouth Breathing Impact Sleep in Kids?
Mouth breathing is not simply a cosmetic or issue of politeness. Mouth breathing can negatively impact oral health, airway health, and long-term brain cognitive functionality.
Mouth breathing can lead to sleep-disorder breathing and snoring. Sleep-disordered breathing can disrupt brain development causing attention, behavior, and learning issues for children. Sleep-disordered breathing in children can damage the prefrontal cortex of a child's brain, thus the importance of preventing sleep-disordered breathing.
Sleep-disordered breathing is a systemic condition, that changes brain chemistry, the body's metabolism, hormone balance, and overall physical and mental wellbeing. Left untreated, it can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, acid reflux, and even fatal cancer.
As with any medical condition, consult your child's pediatrician should you see any of these symptoms in your child or if you suspect your child is suffering from an airway disorder.
MOUTH BREATHING IN INFANTS
Newborns usually breathe through their noses. If their nasal passage is blocked, they might be forced to breathe through their mouths.
Your baby is at risk of mouth breathing if:
Breastfeeding is discontinued before three months. In many instances, babies stop breastfeeding prematurely or self-wean naturally. However, continuing with even one feed a day can help reduce the risk of your child regularly breathing through their mouth. During breastfeeding, the child uses his or her mouth and tongue muscles as he or she breathes through the nose. A child's palate is also stretched, causing bone growth in the jaw to expand. As a result, the airway becomes more open.
There is a tongue tie. A tight tongue frenulum will make latching and breastfeeding difficult for your child. It can also cause problems with swallowing, eating, and speaking in the long run. The tongue-tie can also prevent orofacial development, which can result in partial airway obstruction during sleep.
Long-term thumb-sucking and prolonged pacifier use. The pressure your child applies to the palate when sucking their thumb or pacifier narrows their jaw.
They may also have enlarged tonsils. Tonsils that are inflamed and swollen can partially block the airways. As a result, your child will breathe through their mouths while sleeping.
Mouth breathing occurs primarily because of the jaw. It is ideal for your child's jaws to be U-shaped and wide. Despite this, it's now quite common for jaws to be smaller, resulting in teeth that are overcrowded and crooked smiles.
SIGNS YOUR CHILD IS MOUTH BREATHING
A child who is repeatedly breathing through their mouth while they sleep has this condition. Additional signs include:
Mouth breathing when awake
Grinding their teeth while asleep
Snorting when they cry
Waking up with a dry mouth or headache
Consistently having trouble waking up each morning
Concentration or behavioral issues at school
Diagnosis of ADHD
If you suspect your child might have breathing issues, it might be time for a visit to your pediatrician or pediatric airway dentist.