Often caused by partially obstructed airways, mouth breathing can cause serious oral problems. Clearing nasal passages and learning to breathe the correct way can help improve the health of the teeth and mouth.
Many people who breathe through their mouths, rather than through their nose, don’t realize that they are doing it. Some signs of this habit include:
- crowded teeth
- dry lips
- open mouth while sleeping
- increased number of colds and upper respiratory infections
- bad breath
- sore throat
- chronic fatigue
While many people breathe out of their mouths occasionally, such as during heavy exercising or when they have a cold, continuing to do so on a regular basis can lead to problems.
Causes of Mouth Breathing
Mouth breathing is usually caused by chronic nasal obstruction. If the body isn’t getting enough oxygen when breathing through the nose, it resorts to breathing through the mouth as a means of replenishing its oxygen. Causes of chronic nasal obstruction include:
- polyps and swelling from food or environmental allergies
- enlarged tonsils
- enlarged adenoids
- upper respiratory infections
Effects of Mouth Breathing on Oral Health
Breathing through the mouth affects the entire body, particularly the teeth, gums and mouth.Strangely enough, It can actually change the shape of kids’ faces, according to a report Jefferson published last year in the journal General Dentistry. “Severe mouth breathers develop what they call long face syndrome — long, narrow faces, very unattractive facial features. Also if their tonsils are swollen, they sometimes position their jaw in weird ways in order to get more oxygen into their bodies. It can happen in adults as well … but it’s more prominent in children,” Jefferson says. “People think they grew to this face because of genetics –- it’s not, it’s because they’re mouth-breathers.” It’s reversible in children if it’s caught early — an orthodontist might use a device to expand the jaw, which will widen the mouth and open the sinuses, helping the child breathe through the nose again. (This can be done in adults, too, but it’s more difficult.)
Tooth Decay and Gum Disease
Breathing through the mouth can cause the mouth to quickly dry out and decrease the production of saliva. Saliva helps to neutralize acids in the mouth from the food that is eaten and helps to wash away bacteria, which aids in cavity prevention. Similarly, the lack of saliva in the mouth can also lead to gum disease.
Malocclusion, or a poor bite, is often seen in individuals who have breathed through their mouths for most of their lives. This is why proper breathing is especially important in children who are still developing. Though the exact cause is unclear, researchers believe that the jaw has to make different movements when breathing than when eating or drinking. This can lead to a poor bite, an elongated lower face and a narrowed upper arch in the mouth.
Humans were designed to breathe from their noses; when they don’t, the entire posture of the body changes in order to accommodate this habit. As well as facial changes that may occur as previously mentioned, breathing through the mouth promotes a forward posture. This can prevent children from the getting the proper amount of oxygen they need for healthy growth, development and getting a healthy amount sleep.
A medical or dental professional should be sought in order to rule out any conditions that are causing mouth breathing. Once any nasal obstruction is fixed, the airways will be clear and will allow breathing through the nose, preventing oral problems. The effects of mouth breathing can be severe, so prompt help should be sought soon after discovering the issue.