Mouth breathing is a heavy problem. That’s a heavy statement, but it’s one that needs to be said up front, because too many parents just ignore mouth breathing as a funny or odd-but-harmless quirk that their child will eventually outgrow.
I’m sure you want your child to grow up to be healthy and good looking – which parent doesn’t? Mouth breathing, though, puts those goals in jeopardy. If your child breathes through their mouth regularly, it tells you that they aren’t breathing or swallowing correctly.
That can lead to short and long term health issues, and even disrupt the development of your child’s facial structures. It all adds up to poorer health, decreased confidence, and lower quality of life overall.
What’s causing your child’s mouth breathing?
Just to be clear, when we talk about mouth breathing here, we’re talking about persistent mouth breathing that isn’t the result of your child having a stuffed up or runny nose.
In those cases, you should just keep an eye on your child and make sure they go back to breathing through their noses once their nasal passages are clear again.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about some of the main reasons why your child might be breathing through their mouth.
Problems with Mouth and Bite Structure
The shape of your child’s jaw and mouth might be preventing them from closing their mouth correctly, which would encourage mouth breathing.
Blocked Nasal Passages
Your child’s tonsils and sinuses might be limiting airflow through their nostrils, making them feel more comfortable breathing through their mouth.
Breathing is second nature – or at least it’s supposed to be. Your child’s mouth breathing might just be a bad habit that you can help them unlearn.
Mouth breathing affects every stage of a child’s development.
Mouth breathing can begin from a very young age – as early as the time when a baby begins to use a pacifier or bottle.
Those things, along with habits like thumb and finger sucking, can set the stage for mouth breathing to occur, as can environmental factors like allergens or dust that cause a child’s nose to frequently become congested.
From there, mouth breathing can become a major disruption to a child’s development, as you’ll see in the following section…
Why is mouth breathing so bad for children?
Because of where they are developmentally.
Childhood is such an important stage – it’s when so much essential growth takes place in mind and body, and mouth breathing stops both from progressing the way they’re supposed to.
Mouth breathing harms a child’s physical development.
As time passes, mouth breathing shifts your child’s facial structures, potentially leading to:
- Crooked teeth and overcrowding
- Uneven face and jaw symmetry
- Noticeable deformities
- Overly visible gums
- A narrow mouth
- Persistent pain
Mouth breathing harms a child’s mental development.
When your child can’t breathe properly, their brain can’t function properly either. The result is:
- Difficulties with concentration and problem solving
- Development of sleep disorders like insomnia
- Disrupted emotional and social development
- Misdiagnosis of issues like ADD and ADHD
- Slower cognitive development
- Poor performance at school
How can you identify mouth breathing?
Your child probably isn’t aware that they’re breathing through their mouth.
If they’re breathing through their mouth when they’re awake, they probably think it’s normal. And if they’re breathing through their mouth when they’re asleep…well, that’s pretty self-explanatory.
All in all, that means it’s up to you, the parent, to look for signs of mouth breathing in your child.
But you can’t (or shouldn’t) just sit them down in front of you and ask them to breathe. That’s going to make them think about their breathing and potentially change from mouth breathing to nasal breathing.
Instead, you should observe them during their day-to-day activities for a period of time, watching our for some of the following signs:
Symptoms of Mouth Breathing in Children
- Noisy eating
- Difficulty speaking
- Bad breath or strong mouth odor
- Frequent cavities and tooth decay
- A dry mouth and/or dry, cracked lips
- A persistent slightly open-mouthed look
- Crying or problems with sleeping at night
- Trouble concentrating at school or complaints about “brain fog”
- Tiredness and irritability even when they’re getting plenty of rest
Stopping your child’s mouth breathing: What can you do?
The first thing to do is to look for the signs of mouth breathing in your child.
Remember – you’re looking for regular, ongoing symptoms. Stress or a stuffed up nose, for example, might cause your child to breathe through their mouth temporarily.
Once you’re feeling confident that your child may have trouble breathing through their mouth, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your family doctor or dentist.
For instance, here at Lawson Dentistry, we’ll ask you and your child about their breathing, sleeping, and concentration, and we’ll also examine their mouth for other signs of mouth breathing.
There’s no single reason behind mouth breathing in children, so – likewise – there’s no single treatment either.
That’s why it’s better to get a medical professional’s opinion – even if your child’s mouth breathing is as “simple” as being a bad habit, there’s reassurance in having that verified by a qualified expert.
How will your child’s mouth breathing be treated?
While there are several ways for mouth breathing to be addressed, they generally fall into one of the three categories I’ve expanded on below.
As I mentioned before, there’s no one-size-fits-all fix – the right solution for your child depends on the underlying reasons for their mouth breathing.
Your child might be given conscious nasal breathing exercises to practice during the day, and/or recommendations for a sleeping posture that promotes nasal breathing.
A Dental Appliance
If your child’s tongue or jaws are causing their mouth breathing difficulties, a nightly dental appliance like Myobrace or HealthyStart can be recommended to resolve the issue.
While invasive options are generally avoided for children, sometimes they’re the only option. For structural issues in the tonsils and sinuses, surgery may be required.
Worried about mouth breathing in your child?
My team and I have spent years assessing and resolving breathing disorders in children. It’s something I’ve been especially vigilant about with my own family – and it’d be my pleasure to extend that vigilance to your family, too.
Using myofunctional therapies like Myobrace and HealthyStart, we’ve helped countless children across Des Moines correct their breathing, swallowing, and tongue positioning for better breathing and – most importantly – healthier development.
If you’d like to find out more about myofunctional therapy and how it might be able to help your child sleep better, learn better and just feel better, visit our Myobrace page.