Why Mouth Breathing is a Big Deal

We are not supposed to breathe through our mouths.  Our bodies function best on air that is warm and humid after passing through our noses and sinus passages.  Constant mouth breathing is like always using a back-up plan.  It gets oxygen to our brains, and it keeps us alive, but it is not the best way to breathe.

What is Mouth Breathing?

The definition of mouth breathing is a simple one: inhaling and exhaling through the mouth.  The reason it needs a definition is that mouth breathing is not the normal or appropriate way to breathe.

A normal, healthy baby does not breathe through his mouth.  Babies must breathe through their noses in order to obtain the proper nutrition through breast-feeding.  Babies do not have the proper reflex system to open their mouths to breathe if their noses are stuffy.  Nasal breathing is mandatory.

What Causes Mouth Breathing?

  • Temporary Nasal Obstruction – Things like seasonal allergies or sinus congestion clog up our nasal passages and sinuses, making nose breathing difficult or even impossible. This is considered temporary nasal obstruction, but in many cases, it becomes a chronic problem.  When someone cannot breather through his nose, the mouth opens to compensate.
  • Permanent Nasal Obstruction – A permanent nasal obstruction involves a structural problem in the nose or sinus cavities. This includes things like a deviated nasal septum, enlarged bones in the nose called turbinates, enlarged adenoids and tumors.  Someone with a serious injury to the face may also suffer a permanent nasal obstruction.
  • Inability to Close Lips – When a person is unable to close his lips without straining, it is called lip incompetence. A common cause of lip incompetence is the position of the front teeth.  Teeth flared out toward the front of the  mouth make it difficult, or even impossible, to keep the lips closed.  Another cause of lip incompetence is an abnormal jaw relationship called an open bite.  An open bite is a condition in which the back teeth touch, but the front teeth are unable to close together.  This separation of the front teeth creates a larger distance for the lips to cover.

What Does Mouth Breathing Cause?

  • Dry Mouth – Keeping the lips closed is vital to creating the ideal oral environment, with saliva continually moisturizing the teeth and gums. If breathing occurs through the mouth, all of the tissues in the mouth become dry from the air that is constantly through the mouth.
  • Gingivitis – Gingivitis, or inflamed gums, is a very common symptom of mouth breathing. Research studies show that mouth breathers have a consistently higher level of inflammation of the gums than normal breathers.  What is really interesting is that mouth breathers have more gingivitis without having more plaque!  This means you can be a great brusher and flosser, but still have red, irritated, bleeding gums because you breathe through your mouth.
  • Cavities – Because mouth breathing creates dry mouth, it also increases the risk for cavities. Saliva fights bacteria.  Teeth need constant moisture from saliva to stay healthy.  A dry mouth is an unhealthy mouth that is prone to cavities.
  • Bad Breath – A dry mouth is a stinky mouth. Since saliva fights bacteria, a dry mouth allows bacteria to grow quickly.  An overgrowth of bacteria always smells bad.
  • Crooked Teeth – If a child constantly breathes through his mouth, the growth of the mouth and jaws has an elongating and narrowing effect. A narrow dental arch does not have enough room for the teeth to come in straight.  Therefore, they come in crooked.
  • Abnormal Facial Growth – As noted in the previous bullet, mouth breathing affects the way the mouth and jaws grow. The upper jaw becomes narrow with a very high palate.  The lower jaw also narrows and grows downward in an elongated fashion.  This growth gives the face a long, skinny appearance with lips that do not close over the teeth.

What Can You Do about Mouth Breathing?

  1. Treat any nasal obstructions. This may require a visit to your family doctor or an ENT. Temporary nasal obstructions typically clear up with various medications.  Permanent nasal obstructions may require surgical intervention to create room for air to flow smoothly through your nasal passages and sinus cavities.
  2. Move the teeth. Adults with flared front teeth benefit from orthodontic treatment, which moves the teeth into a better position.  Then the lips can close over the teeth, allowing you to breathe through your nose.
  3. Guide the jaw growth. While there is still movement and growth of the jaws, that movement and growth can be guided to create the appropriate shape of the upper and lower jaws.  A nighttime appliance, like Healthy Start™, actually promotes development of the airway, properly aligns the jaws, and directs the permanent teeth coming into the mouth.
  4. See your dentist. It is important to manage the dental complications that arise from mouth breathing. Your dentist can help with preventive options to reduce your risk for cavities and gum disease that occurs with mouth breathing.

Do You Have More Questions about Mouth Breathing?

Call our office today at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He will answer all of your questions and advise you of your specific risk for dental complications from mouth breathing.

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