It is perfectly natural to breathe through your mouth at certain times, such as when lifting a heavy load or exercising. Breathing through the mouth most of the time, however, can cause health problems. These problems can be especially severe for children because it can affect the long-term development of the face.
Most of us bring air into our body through our nose. The nose is designed to act as a natural humidifier and filtering system for the air we breathe. When we can’t get enough air through our nose, however, the mouth takes over. Breathing through the mouth most of the time was not nature’s intent. When this happens, problems can occur.
Why Would Someone Mouth Breathe?
Mouth breathing is a postural habit that can develop for numerous reasons. Below are the most common:
- Thumb or finger sucking habit
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- Chronic nasal congestion
- Respiratory infection
Each of these five factors make it physically impossible for a person to nasal breathe. If nasal breathing is not possible, the body’s only choice is to mouth breathe.
Mouth breathing changes the way the tongue works—it develops a “tongue thrust.” A tongue thrust affects speech, swallowing, breathing, and chewing in problematic ways.
Facial Growth and Development
Believe it or not, breathing through your mouth can actually change the shape of your face and alter your appearance. This is especially true for children because they are still growing. Children whose mouth breathing goes untreated may suffer from abnormal facial and dental development. Symptoms include long, narrow faces and mouths, less defined cheek bones, small lower jaws, and “weak” chins. Other facial symptoms include gummy smiles and crooked teeth. A “mouth breather” facial expression is typically not viewed as an attractive or desirable appearance to have.
Other Effects on the Body
Using the mouth for breathing disrupts our natural body mechanics. It can affect a number of bodily functions and lead to symptoms such as:
- Gingivitis and gum disease
- Sore throat and cold symptoms
- Bad breath and higher risk for cavities
- Poor sleep—leading to chronic fatigue
- Digestive disturbances—gas, upset stomach, acid reflux, etc.
The stem of the problem in many cases is oxygen deprivation. When we take in air through the mouth, less oxygen is able to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Poor sleeping habits often result from lower oxygen levels. In children, this can adversely affect growth and academic performance. It has even been connected to ADD and ADHD symptoms.
In adults, poor oxygen concentration in the bloodstream has been associated with high blood pressure, heart problems, sleep apnea and other medical issues.
Mouth breathing causes posture changes as well. In order to open the airway, the head rests in a forward position and the shoulders slump. This in unhealthy for the spine.
Mouth breathing can also affect the position of your teeth and your bite. The resting posture of the lips and position of the tongue have also been shown to cause problems with the orthodontic treatment—time spent in braces can be longer, and the chance for relapse after the braces are removed is higher.
What Can Be Done to Treat Mouth Breathing
Mouth breathing may seem like an easy habit to change. Just close your mouth, right?
Unfortunately, for the people who struggle with mouth breathing, it is not that easy. This is because all of the muscles of the face and mouth have been programmed to help them breathe in a dysfunctional manner. Their body does not know how to breathe normally.
In order to stop mouth breathing, the muscles must be “re-trained” to function in new ways.
A Myofunctional Therapist (MFT) can be an instrumental figure in helping you learn to breathe in a healthy way. MFTs are skilled at helping children and adults gain control over muscle patterning habits, including those involved in mouth breathing.
A consultation with a MFT can be very valuable. If the muscles are not re-trained, problems with general health, speech, orthodontic treatment, dental health, swallowing and breathing may persist throughout life.
Myofunctional Therapy is needed to make the muscular changes associated with mouth breathing.