Mouth Breathing in Children

Do you often see your child breathing through his mouth? Our specialists at Dr. Michael’s Dental Clinic discuss the cause, dangers and treatment for young mouth breathers.

What are the signs and causes of mouth breathing?

“Mouth breathing is a very common problem that begins in childhood and can continue unnoticed till adulthood,” said Dr. Mai Kamar, our pediatric dentist.
“It has two major types – pathological or habitual. Pathological mouth breathing has an underlying cause such as enlarged adenoids, deviated nasal septum, asthma, allergic rhinitis, etc., where there is an actual obstruction to the nasal airway, hence the child resolves to breathing through the mouth to get the required amount of oxygen the body needs.”
“Habitual mouth breathing is where the child develops such habit after having a strong cold accompanied by nasal obstruction or allergy that caused him to breathe through the mouth during his illness. In this case, even after the cold subsides, the child continues to breathe through the mouth out of habit.”
“A parent can identify if his child has such a problem, by observing them from a distance while they are playing or watching TV,” said Dr. Mai. “If your child fails to keep his lips sealed during normal activity and keeps his mouth open for breathing, snores during sleep, has under eye circles, has crooked teeth, or has a chronic bad breath, then most probably your child is a mouth breather.”

How can mouth breathing affect children’s teeth?

“Mouth breathing can particularly affect the growing face,” said Dr. Teertha Karnakar, specialist orthodontist, “and these alterations will occur in the muscles associated with the face, tongue and the neck.”

“Untreated airway problems may so severely affect facial growth that orthodontics alone cannot correct the malocclusion. Corrective jaw surgery later in life, in addition to the necessary procedures to open the nasal airway, may be required.”

According to our Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Dr. Obada Barry, mouth breathing throughout the growth stage can cause “specific craniofacial changes including narrow palate (due to missing pressure of tongue on palate), vertical increase (lengthening of lower face) and retruded jaw (1,5). Dental malocclusions are also observed, mainly posterior crossbite and anterior open bite, leading to absence of lip competence (1,3,5).”

Mouth breathing reduces the salivary flow and dries out the mouth. Without the protective functions of saliva, it can “potentially lead to demineralization of teeth with higher risk of decay chronic gingivitis, periodontitis (gum disease), candida infections and halitosis (bad breath) (4).”

Can mouth breathing potentially lead to more serious complications?

Our nose processes the air we breathe before it enters our lungs. Mouth breathing pulls all pollution and germs directly into the lungs; dry cold air in the lungs makes the secretions thick, slows the cleaning cilia, and slows down the passage of oxygen into the blood stream (AAO-HNS).

Dr. Obada Barry also explains that “mouth breathing bypasses the protective function of the nose and sensitization to inhaled allergens is increased. This may increase asthma morbidity (2).”

It is very important to address mouth breathing at an early age where the treatment is much simpler and faster. Mouth breathing can affect the growth and development of your child. It may affect quality of sleep and lead to poor concentration during the day.

Who can diagnose and treat mouth breathing?

If your child is mouth breathing, take him/her to an ENT specialist. They are doctors who diagnose and manage diseases of the ears, nose, larynx, sinuses, throat, as well as structures of the neck and face.
Your child’s dentist can help prevent the habit by providing trainers and appliances that will progress the development of normal nasal breathing patterns and consequently help in developing proper alignment and occlusion of your child’s teeth.
  1. Pacheco MCT et al. Craniofacial changes and symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing in healthy children). Dental Press J Orthod. 2015;20(3):80-7
  2. Yumi I et al. Mouth breathing, another risk factor for asthma: the Nagahama Study. Allergy 2016; Mar 17 [Epub ahead of print]
  3. Juliano ML et al. Mouth breathing children have cephalometric patterns similar to those of adult patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Arg Neuropsiquiatr 2009;67(3B):860-5
  4. Surtel A et al. The influence of breathing mode on the oral cavity. Pol Merkur Lekarski 2015;39(234):405-7
  5. Harari D et al. The effect of mouth breathing versus nasal breathing on dentofacial and craniofacial development in orthodontic patients. Laryngoscope 2010;120(10):2089-93

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