Breathing: You hardly notice it unless you're consciously focused on it—or something's stopping it!
So, take a few seconds and pay attention to your breathing. Then ask yourself this question—are you breathing through your nose, or through your mouth? Unless we're exerting ourselves or have a nasal obstruction, we normally breathe through the nose. This is as nature intended it: The nasal passages act as a filter to remove allergens and other fine particles.
Some people, though, tend to breathe primarily through their mouths even when they're at rest or asleep. And for children, not only do they lose out on the filtering benefit of breathing through the nose, mouth breathing could affect their dental development.
People tend to breathe through their mouths if it's become uncomfortable to breathe through their noses, often because of swollen tonsils or adenoids pressing against the nasal cavity or chronic sinus congestion. Children born with a small band of tissue called a tongue or lip tie can also have difficulty closing the lips or keeping the tongue on the roof of the mouth, both of which encourage mouth breathing.
Chronic mouth breathing can also disrupt children's jaw development. The tongue normally rests against the roof of the mouth while breathing through the nose, which allows it to serve as a mold for the growing upper jaw and teeth to form around. Because the tongue can't be in this position during mouth breathing, it can disrupt normal jaw development and lead to a poor bite.
If you suspect your child chronically breathes through his or her mouth, your dentist may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist to check for obstructions. In some cases, surgical procedures to remove the tonsils or adenoids may be necessary.
If there already appears to be problems brewing with the bite, your child may need orthodontic treatment. One example would be a palatal expander, a device that fits below the palate to put pressure on the upper jaw to grow outwardly if it appears to be developing too narrowly.
The main focus, though, is to treat or remove whatever may be causing this tendency to breathe through the mouth. Doing so will help improve a child's ongoing dental development.
If you would like more information on treating chronic mouth breathing, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Trouble With Mouth Breathing.”