Mouth Breathing in Children – What Parents Need To Know

Mouth breathing is just what it sounds like – it occurs when it’s hard for a child to inhale through the nose and is compelled to use the mouth, particularly while sleeping. It’s common for everyone to breathe through the mouth while they’re down with a cold. Very often, though, children experience trouble breathing through their nose even if they don’t have a cold or the flu or a fever. Children who breathe through their mouths during sleep tend to develop differently, causing health problems in the future, which can even influence their physical and mental development.

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Causes of Mouth Breathing in Children

  • Breathing or airway problems: The primary cause in most cases of mouth breathing is an obstruction (completely or partially blocked) in the nasal airway. There can be many causes of nasal airway’s obstruction. These include nasal congestion from allergies, cold or a sinus infection, enlarged adenoids or tonsils, benign growths of tissue in the nose, and the shape of the nose and jaw.
  • Thumb or finger sucking habit: When a child often places the thumb inside the mouth, especially for longer periods of time, the oral and facial muscles develop around this habit. When the thumb is in the mouth, the lips cannot form a seal, and a tongue thrust swallowing pattern develops as well.
  • Tongue-tie: This is a genuine medical condition. A tongue-tie is a thick, tight, or short string of tissue under the tongue, which restricts the tongue’s movement that might have functional consequences. It can contribute to a high narrow palate and a reduced space for nasal breathing.

Consequences of Prolonged Mouth Breathing

Mouth breathing can have many consequences, none of them positive. They include dryness of the mouth, inflamed tonsils, dry cough, swollen tongue, gingivitis, dental cavities, and bad breath. According to a study published by Clinics, approximately 50.9% of children identified as mouth breathers had a strong mouth odor. Another study in the journal Respirology showed that mouth breathing can worsen exercise-induced asthma.

In the long run, chronic mouth breathing can lead to conditions that can alter the quality of life. They include:

  • Improper Facial Growth and Skeletal Deformities: Mouth breathing can change a person’s jaw position. This is often seen in children because of their continual and rapid growth. Facial growth due to mouth breathing often leads to long, narrow faces with regressed cheekbones, lower jaw, and chin.
  • Speech Impediments: Many mouth-breathing children between the ages of 4 and 12 have speech alterations and impediments such as sound omissions, lisp, and articulatory disorders. Mouth breathing can change the way the tongue works, known as a tongue “thrust.” This negatively affects speech, swallowing, and chewing.
  • Effect on teeth and braces: Breathing through the mouth causes a child’s braces to take longer to align the teeth. The gap between the teeth becomes a lot more difficult to reduce and close. It also compromises teeth alignment after braces are removed.

What You Can Do as a Parent to Prevent Mouth Breathing

It’s important for parents to look out for signs of mouth breathing in their children as they may not be able to communicate these signs properly. The biggest giveaway is that, children who are mouth breathers will breathe with their mouth open and snore at night. As a parent, you can:

  • Monitor your child and verify that they can comfortably breathe through the nose.
  • Make sure your child is examined by a dentist by the age of 1 and ensure that the dentist understands mouth breathing and its implications.
  • Determine whether your child should be treated for allergies because allergies can force children to breathe through their mouth.
  • Ensure that your child’s diet and environment don’t trigger allergies.

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David W | Published on Friday, November 14, 2018

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Treatment Options for Mouth Breathing

A medical expert can identify the cause of mouth breathing and determine the best treatment option, which can include breathing exercises to retrain nose breath, medications for allergies and asthma, and nasal drainage. Myofunctional therapy (muscle training) can help a child overcome the habit naturally, once the medical condition is treated. These exercises should only be performed under the care and guidance of a qualified therapist.

Mouth breathing in children is a highly treatable condition and you should not delay seeking treatment for it. The best way to fix it rests on diagnosing what is preventing your child from breathing through the nose. If an allergy to dust is the culprit then air-conditioning and keeping doors and windows closed are effective ways to keep your home free of allergens and irritants brought in by air from the outside. Pillows, mattresses, and duvet should be covered with clinically proven, anti-mite, woven material. Replacing the bed and bedding with a hypoallergenic mattress like Nuvanna may help you. If it’s due to a habit like a thumb-sucking, speaking to them about the dangers and using a positive reward system can help. The sooner you act, the sooner your child will learn to breathe through the nose.

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