Should You Worry About Mouth Breathing?

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Mouth breathing is an oft-ignored phenomenon that can flare up into bigger issues if left unchecked. While face and jaw malformations are a major concern for kids, its symptoms like poor sleep and lowered oxygen levels in blood can increase the likelihood of having high blood pressure, heart complications in adults. Early diagnosis can help correct the condition.

Does your child wake up often while sleeping, unable to get a good night’s rest? Do they have a dry throat from breathing through the mouth? Breathing through the nose is the normal and best way to go, but a fairly large number of people breathe through their mouths as well. In fact, mouth breathing is so common that some medical professionals say that most families have at least one person living with this problem.

What Makes You Breathe Through The Mouth?

Mouth breathing is an oft-ignored phenomenon that can flare up into bigger issues if left unchecked. Whether you’re breathing through your mouth because your nose is perpetually blocked, or because you simply cannot breathe comfortably through your nose when you’re lying down, you (or your child with this problem) may need some medical attention. Nasal obstructions like a deviated nasal septum or nasal polyps, chronic allergies, constricted upper airways, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, thumb sucking in children, and even the overuse of pacifiers by infants could cause breathing through the mouth.1

Should You Be Worried if Your Child Is A Mouth Breather?

There are several reasons you should correct a child’s mouth breathing early on. Letting the condition go on unchecked can result in abnormalities in dental and facial development, as well as crooked teeth, bad breath, and gum disease or gingivitis. Children’s faces may appear to be overly long and narrow as a result of mouth breathing and their smiles may be gummy.2

The constant rousing from sleep can cause problems with their academic performance and growth. Worse yet, many may be wrongly diagnosed with hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder, when in reality their only issue is mouth breathing and disturbed sleep that leaves them exhausted and less able to concentrate.3

Because our bodies are designed to take in air through the nose and not the mouth, the oxygen concentration in the child’s bloodstream may also be lower than it should be. This in turn could cause sleep apnea, heart problems, and high blood pressure.4

Concerns For Adults

While face and jaw malformations are a major concern for kids whose bodies are still growing, some symptoms of mouth breathing are as bad for an adult. For instance, not getting enough quality sleep could open the floodgates to problems ranging from cardiovascular illness to metabolic syndrome and heightened stress. It can even increase overall morbidity and mortality.5 Poor sleep quality and fatigue can affect your performance at work or ability to function at home just as it interferes with a child’s academic performance and their ability to concentrate.

In addition, the lowered oxygen levels in the blood because of the reduced intake of air from the mouth – 10 to 20 percent more oxygen is taken in when you breathe through the nose – could cause chronic oxygen deprivation.6

And that’s not all. Generally, the nitric oxide produced by your paranasal sinuses is excreted into the nasal airway. But by breathing through your mouth, the levels of this vasodilator gas in your body go down. Nitric oxide is responsible for modulating pulmonary function7, which is why adults who breathe through the mouth may have high blood pressure or heart problems.

Can You Stop It?

Several treatment options are available for mouth breathing. Depending on what’s causing it, you may need to use all or some of these in combination to treat the condition.

Orthodontic Correction Or Surgery

Make an appointment with a dentist who will check for underlying causes. If they find that the adenoids or tonsils, or both, are swollen and therefore obstructing the upper airways (causing the mouth breathing), the dentist may refer you to an ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist who can surgically remove them. Dental surgery and expansion devices can help open up your nasal airway passages or widen sinuses as needed. This is usually required if mouth breathing coincides with a narrow facial structure. Results from orthodontic correction and surgery are often immediate and promising, and normal growth and energy levels are restored.8

Myofunctional Therapy

Speech therapists can also help with myofunctional therapy, a muscle therapy which can help with mouth/face functions otherwise hampered by mouth breathing. A combination of tongue exercises, facial exercises, and neurological re-education exercises are done to restore normal function of the mouth, face, and oropharyngeal area of your neck. The Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy (AOMT) emphasizes the importance of a multidisciplinary approach for full recovery. Osteopaths, orthodontists, and dentists work closely with myofunctional therapists to help the patient.9

Ayurvedic Remedies

If your mouth breathing is due to allergies or nasal blockage, some natural remedies can help solve the problem that’s causing the congestion. Nasal irrigation or nasya therapy, done using a special neti pot filled with salt water, helps cleanse the nose and sinus region. This is beneficial for sinus-related problems, including headaches, as well as chronic respiratory congestion and recurrent colds. To do this, add a heaped teaspoon of sea salt to a pint of clean, warm water and fill this in the net pot. Put the spout of the pot into your left nostril while holding the pot in your left hand. Stand over a sink with the head tilting to the right and get the warm water to flow out through the other nostril as you keep breathing through your mouth. Alternate nostrils, taking between 15 and 30 seconds on each side. While this may seem fairly straightforward, you should always do this with a trained practitioner the first few times till you learn how to properly perform the procedure.10 Herbal remedies like ashwagandha are also useful due to immunomodulatory effects which can help temper your body’s response when it is exposed to an allergen.11

References   [ + ]

2. Bresolin, Dante, Gail G. Shapiro, Peter A. Shapiro, Steven W. Dassel, Clifton T. Furukawa, William E. Pierson, Michael Chapko, and C. Warren Bierman. “Facial characteristics of children who breathe through the mouth.” Pediatrics 73, no. 5 (1984): 622-625.
3, 8. Mouth breathing can cause major health problems, Academy of General Dentistry.
4. Jefferson, Yosh. “Mouth breathing: adverse effects on facial growth, health, academics, and behavior.” Gen Dent 58, no. 1 (2010): 18-25.
5. Mullington, Janet M., Monika Haack, Maria Toth, Jorge M. Serrador, and Hans K. Meier-Ewert. “Cardiovascular, inflammatory, and metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation.” Progress in cardiovascular diseases 51, no. 4 (2009): 294-302.
6. Ruth, Alan. “The health benefits of nose breathing.” Nursing in General Practice. Sep 2015.
7. Lundberg, J. O. N., G. Settergren, S. Gelinder, J. M. Lundberg, K. Alving, and E. Weitzberg. “Inhalation of nasally derived nitric oxide modulates pulmonary function in humans.” Acta physiologica scandinavica 158, no. 4 (1996): 343-347.
10. Nasal Health to Benefit the Entire Body, Yoga Journal (August 2007).
11. Mishra, Lakshmi-Chandra, Betsy B. Singh, and Simon Dagenais. “Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review.” Alternative medicine review 5, no. 4 (2000): 334-346.