is perfectly natural to breathe through your mouth at certain times,
such as when lifting a heavy load, or running. Breathing through
the mouth most of the time, however, can cause health problems.
These problems can be especially severe for children because mouth-breathing
can affect the long-term growth and development of the face. It
is important that the reasons for mouth breathing, and why it is
important to correct it, are understood.
Air is something nobody can live without! 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 is perfectly natural
occasionally. Yet breathing through the mouth most of the time was
not nature's intent. When this happens, serious problems can occur.
Breathing and Your Health
Mouth breathing can affect a number of bodily functions and can
lead to symptoms such as headaches, dry mouth, sore throat, bad
breath, poor sleep, chronic fatigue, and ear pressure and fullness.
Over time, mouth breathing can also affect:
- the position of your teeth and your bite
- your facial features
- your posture
Why Breathe Through the Mouth?
Why would anyone breathe through the mouth? The most obvious reason
is when we can't get enough air through the nose. Common reasons
for blocked nasal passages include:
- allergies which may cause polyps or swelling
- enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- respiratory infections (such as a cold or the
Indications of airway obstruction include:
- sounding 'stuffy' during the day or night
- frequent sore throats
- dark circles under the eyes
Using the mouth for breathing disrupts our natural
body mechanics. This would be less of a problem for animals. Since
the heads of four-legged animals are horizontal to the ground, gravity
helps to bring the throat muscles down and keep the airway open.
By standing upright, man creates a need to maintain the airway.
We do so through a complex network of cartilage and muscles in the
throat. After air passes through our nostrils, it goes into our
pharynx. The pharynx is located just behind the nasal cavity and
is the passageway for both food and air. The tongue is the large
muscle which does much of the work to keep this passage open, in
combination with the soft palate which rests upon it. The lower
jaw serves as a support for the tongue and related structures just
below the neck.
Mouth Breathing Affects the Teeth, Jaw, and Posture
We typically use the jaw and tongue for eating, swallowing, and speaking.
When used for breathing, we must make postural adjustments. Chronic
mouth breathers tend to bring their head forward in front of their
shoulders and tilted back to maintain an open airway. Try it yourself,
while letting your tongue relax. Notice that this posture pulls the
jaw down and back. It also changes the position of the tongue. The
tongue is pulled down so that it no longer produces any force against
the upper arch of the teeth. Without this force, the developing upper
jaw does not fully grow and the nasal cavity becomes constricted.
Since the upper jaw also happens to be the lower part of the nasal
cavity, you can see how one affects the other. What started out to
be a problem with your nose also becomes a problem with your bite.
Serious Implications for Children
Even worse, when children chronically breathe through their mouth,
it can affect the overall growth and development of their face.
A typical facial profile is associated with people who have a long
history of mouth breathing. It is a narrow face with a forward head
posture, a narrowed or flattened nose with nostrils that are small
and poorly developed, a short upper lip, and a 'pouting' lower lip.
What To Do?
If you or your child
habitually breathe through the mouth, it is important to inform
both your dentist and physician. The dentist will be concerned with
correcting the bite. However, a proper bite cannot be attained until
normal nasal breathing is established. This typically must be corrected
by an Allergist or an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. Both
the bite and the nasal passageway should be taken into consideration.
This is why it is important that your dentist and physician work