This is one of those things that we often don’t think about or talk about, but research has found that mouth breathing can be dangerous for your child and should be addressed. The first step is to make sure that your child is indeed a mouth breather and then to understand why. We are not doctors, but through starting Intake we have had the opportunity to learn and understand more about the way we breathe. With that, we have learned that it really matters, and it matters at a very young age!
What is mouth breathing?
Mouth breathing often goes undiagnosed because it is a symptom which can be found in many other conditions. But by itself, mouth breathing may also induce a number of complications including: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), ADHD, Poor Quality Sleep, Snoring and Bedwetting.
If you suspect that your child’s sleeping patterns or behavior is being affected by mouth breathing or snoring, it is important to seek medical advice.
Why you should be aware of your child’s mouth breathing.
If you notice that your child’s movements are erratic or not well coordinated, it could be because of their mouth breathing. If they are constantly breathing through the mouth instead of the nose, there’s not enough air entering the nasal passages which deprives their brain from getting enough oxygen. This leads to both physical and mental disorders in children. Of course, if your child is running around and playing, it is natural to begin open mouth breathing. But the takeaway here is that their mouths should otherwise be comfortably closed and nose breathing should not be difficult.
Here are some signs to look out for:
- Mouth always open
- Lips parted
- No movement in the nose
- Dry lips or dry mouth
- Visible saliva that is not moving around the mouth (and not being swallowed)
- Breathing is loud and audible. You may even be able to see their chest rise and fall as they breathe on a regular basis. If it’s especially hard to see your child’s belly move, that means their rib cage is expanding. This can cause posture issues down the line.
The key here is to distinguish between normal breathing and what mouth breathing looks like: The latter should be continuous and labored.
Why do children begin to mouth breathe?
The root cause of mouth breathing is usually an obstructed nasal passage. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but some of the most common are:
- Crowded teeth
- Poorly aligned teeth
- Nose bones (nasal septum) that are out of position
- A deviated or crooked nose
- Enlarged adenoids or tonsils in the back of the throat/mouth area (common in children)
In these cases, mouth breathing can become habitual if left untreated and create a chronic condition. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms and you suspect they may be suffering from mouth breathing, it is recommended to find the cause and have it treated.
How a child can benefit from nose breathing
- Nose breathing is more efficient. The nose warms, humidifies, and filters air before it enters the lungs, while mouth breathing bypasses this process. During exercise, nose breathing allows a person to utilize up to 17 percent more oxygen than someone who breathes through their mouth.
- Nose breathing increases mental performance. Research has shown that kids who breathe through the mouth for long periods of time have poor focus, which in turn can affect their ability to perform both physically and mentally.
- Nose breathing is healthier for teeth. Mouth breathers tend to have higher levels of acidity in their saliva, which can cause tooth loss over time if untreated.
- Nose breathing improves sleep quality and quantity: Kids who breathe through the mouth are often restless sleepers because they don’t get enough oxygen when they’re asleep; this means parents wake up exhausted as well! Nasal dilators (nose strips) make it easier for your child to keep his or her mouth closed during sleep and encourage nose breathing instead of open-mouthed snoring and gasping throughout the night due to blocked nasal passages (a major contributor to sleep apnea symptoms).
The side effects of mouth breathing in children
If you have noticed any of the following signs, your child may be mouth breathing:
- Tiredness during the day
- Distraction in school
- Sickly appearance (more likely to have common colds and infections)
- Poor concentration
- Restless night’s sleep
- Shape of his/her face shows small chin and larger nose (yes, mouth breathing can change the physical appearance of a growing child!)
In addition to these symptoms, children who mouth breathe are at risk of developing some long-term side effects.
What can parents do to prevent their child from mouth breathing?
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the negative side effects of mouth breathing and the reasons why kids do it. But what can parents do to prevent their child from mouth breathing? Here are our top tips:
- Teach them to breathe through their nose by reminding them to keep their mouth closed at rest. You may encourage this with nasal dilators, and other solutions.
- If your child has allergies or sinus issues, see an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist to see if the issue stems from that area.
- See a dental specialist as soon as possible if your child has crooked teeth or a narrow upper jaw (the dental profession calls this *maxillary hypoplasia*). This condition can be corrected with orthodontics or surgery and will make it easier for them to breathe through their nose rather than their mouth.
If you try these things but find that your child still struggles to close his or her mouth at night, don’t despair—talk to a specialist about getting fitted for a custom oral appliance that will keep his or her jaws closed while they sleep!
For more information on mouth breathing in children, please visit ASAPpathway.com. As a parent, you can also take this quiz ‘is my child at risk?’ here and take this information to an airway-minded Dentist or medical provider!