Updated: May 12
Believe it or not, mouth breathing isn't okay. It's not something a child will grow out of and it's not just a cute thing little kids do in their sleep. Our bodies were designed to breathe through our noses...not our mouths. Mouth breathing can have long-term health impacts on a child, including on a child's oral health.
Chronic mouth breathing occurs in 10-15% of young children. While the difference in whether your child breathes through their mouth or nose may seem trivial to you, it's actually quite critical to their oral health, long-term health, and overall mental state.
Mouth breathing causes the mouth to dry out, which in turn, creates a damaging effect on the normal process or your oral cavity. A dry mouth means that saliva cannot perform the role it's meant to in your child's mouth. What is the role of saliva? It's there to protect teeth and gums by neutralizing harmful acids. It also acts as a protective barrier, preventing bacteria from growing in the mouth.
When not prevented or deterred, bacteria can lead to an increase in plaque, tooth decay, and gum disease. Not only will it impact your child's teeth, but if left untreated, it will spread to their tongue and the roof of their mouth.
SIGNS OF MOUTH BREATHING IN CHILDREN
Mouth breathing can occur infrequently, like when a child has a cold or allergies. However, if it is a daily occurrence, there is a real danger to the child's long-term health, oral health, and mental state.
Here are a few of the signs to watch for if you suspect your child might be a mouth breather:
Bad breath or strong mouth odor
Constant dry mouth or cracked lips
Crying or bedwetting at night
Development of sleep disorders such as insomnia
Inability to wake up in the morning --- tired all-day
Diagnosed as having ADHD or experiencing poor performance in school suddenly
Trouble concentrating in school due to 'brain fog' --- inability to problem solve
Tiredness or irritability all day even after getting plenty of rest
There are also physical signs that your child might be displaying that could indicate that your child is a mouth breather:
Crooked teeth and overcrowding
Uneven face and jaw symmetry
Overly visible gums
A narrow mouth
Sunken eyes and dark circles
Slouching with head pushing forward
A high v-shaped pallet in their mouth
BENEFITS OF NOSE BREATHING
Without a doubt, breathing through your nose instead of your mouth has major benefits. Your nose is designed to process air differently than your mouth. The process is your body's way of keeping you safe and healthy by:
Helping to regulate the temperature of the air so that it is at the optimal level when it hits your lungs
Filtering out toxins and debris via the cilia, tiny hair-like structures in your nostrils, when the air passes through
Humidifying the air as it passes through in order to prevent dry mouth or a sore throat
Producing nitric oxide, which improves your lungs’ ability to absorb oxygen
TREATMENTS FOR MOUTH BREATHING
Most of the time, children are unaware that they are breathing through their mouths when they are awake. Training your child to breathe through their nose at a young age can have life-long health benefits for them. A kind nudge and reminder to close their mouths and breathe through their nose will help to teach them how to self-monitor and self-correct.
Sometimes treating mouth breathing is a matter of treating an underlying illness that impairs nasal breathing. Treatment for mouth breathing is available and can be beneficial for children if the condition is caught early.
HOW ARE SLEEP-RELATED BREATHING DISORDERED TREATED BY DENTISTS?
Pediatric airway dentists and hygienists are experts when it comes to evaluating, diagnosing, and treating issues related to the oral cavity. They can address soft tissue dysfunctions that may compromise the airway and can often alter the growth patterns of the jaw.
Many parents fall prey to the misconception that a child doesn't have many teeth, they don't need to see a dentist yet.
“A visit should take place by their first birthday, or six months after the first tooth becomes visible — whichever is earlier,” says Stephanie Goodson, M.D., a pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
As pediatric dentists often see children more often than any other health care provider, they are in the best position to recognize airway problems. Once spotted, they will work with your child's pediatrician to establish a suitable treatment plan for your child.
WHEN YOU SHOULD CONTACT YOUR PEDIATRIC DENTIST OR PEDIATRICIAN?
Children who aren't sleeping well may be unable to focus, be irritable, or show poor impulse control. Consult a doctor whenever you notice any abnormal sleep symptoms.