Breathe Easy: Learn Orthodontic Causes & Treatments for Mouth Breathing

Breathing through your nose comes naturally – but to some, it’s nearly impossible! When your nasal airways are obstructed, your body’s response is to find oxygen through mouth breathing. Your mouth can pull in a large volume of oxygen at a time, which is why we mouth breathe during strenuous physical activity. However, chronic mouth breathing can lead to serious health and development issues, particularly for children!

Read on to learn what mouth breathing can do to your oral health during early development through adulthood, and what the underlying causes may be.

Complications Due to Mouth Breathing During Early Childhood Development

Mouth breathing is often seen as social issue – it’s more audible and noticeable and even sometimes used as an insult. But habitual mouth breathing can lead to genuine complications or long-term health issues!

Some of the most notable dental complications due to chronic mouth breathing are:

Speech Impediments

Persistent mouth breathing can lead to a condition known as tongue thrust. This describes a functional change in how the tongue works. The most obvious effect of tongue thrust is altered speech.

The longer speech impediments due to tongue thrust exist, the harder they are to correct. Eventually, speech therapy becomes the only option to correct slurring and altered speech.

Skeletal Growth Complications

You may be surprised to learn that mouth breathing can alter how your child’s facial development progresses! During a child’s most extreme growth periods, breathing through their mouth can lead to developmental issues with the bone along their jaw and cheeks.

Bone development issues are harder to correct than they are to prevent. Some of the most common ways mouth breathing alters development is by creating longer, more narrow jawlines that rest lower than an ideal position.

More importantly, this affected jaw development almost guarantees issues with their teeth. A narrow or low-set jaw can lead to crooked teeth or overcrowding, both of which would require orthodontic treatment to correct.

Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

Chronic dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a major concern for your health. While it may seem like a minor inconvenience, dry mouth is a catalyst for bacterial growth and tooth decay. Your mouth relies on saliva to fight acidity and passively clean away loose bacteria or food from your mouth. When you have chronic dry mouth, you lose one of the most effective defenses against on-going decay.

Mouth breathing is associated with xerostomia. It’s no surprise for anyone who has suffered illness or allergies that resulted in clogged nostrils – breathing through your mouth is a quick way to dry it out.

If you or your child typically breathe through your mouth, you are leaving yourself more susceptible to decay, gum disease and the side-effects that they bring.

Causes of Mouth Breathing

Orthodontic Causes

Several developmental issues can impact the airways that would normally allow you to comfortably breathe through your nose. The shape and size of your jaw or nose can play major roles in this. In some cases, these issues are secondary effects of early childhood behavior like unchecked thumb sucking.

When the cause of mouth breathing is due to physical development of your jaw area, early intervention is necessary. The sooner these problems are treated, the easier they are to fix. It’s far easier for an orthodontist to gently redirect oral development than try to correct it after your child has passed the fastest periods of growth.

Other Causes

Of course, mouth breathing is not always due to bone or jaw issues. There are plenty of more common reasons that people breathe through the mouth. Allergies and congestion from illness are one of the most likely causes.

However, problems like a deviated septum, enlarged tonsils or adenoids can also contribute to mouth breathing. Ultimately, your body will default to whichever airway can generate enough oxygen for your body. For most, this is the nose – and it’s a breathing technique formed from habit.

Orthodontic Solutions for Mouth Breathing

Mouth breathing can be corrected by an orthodontist if the causes are related to:

  • Jaw Size/Development
  • Jaw Alignment
  • Issues Relating to Bite
  • Crooked Teeth

Solving these problems will typically reduce or eliminate nasal airway problems that were causing chronic mouth breathing. The actual treatment will differ based on the severity of the issue and how the orthodontist believes it will best be handled.

In some cases, your orthodontist will discover issues that are best treated by another specialist, an ENT. This is often the case when enlarged tonsils or adenoids are the cause behind mouth breathing.

Orthodontic Solutions for Mouth Breathing Can Improve Sleep, Too

When you have difficulty breathing through your nasal airways, it likely affects your ability to breathe while you sleep as well. Your body’s natural inclination is to breathe through the nose. When you can’t supply your body without enough oxygen, or if your airways become blocked, you’re likely to develop sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea creates a litany of problems, including:

  • Frequent waking during sleep
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Decreased alertness during the day
  • Chronic drowsiness

When an orthodontist can improve your ability to breathe clearly, they also can prevent or help eliminate sleep apnea issues!

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