Children’s Oral Health and Open Mouth Breathing

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By Dr Cristina D Bender DDS

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and in honor of that I thought we would discuss

mouth breathing.

Mouth breathing may not seem to be a cause for concern and has been quite normalized in our modern

culture. Almost every Disney movie I recall shows characters sleeping with their mouths wide open,

snoring and drool coming out of their mouth. Have you ever noticed with your own child that they

breathe through their mouth even without a cold or stuffy nose? If you have, you are not alone.

Research has shown that 50% of preschool children breathe through their mouth.

So why is this a problem? Simply put, when mouth breathing is not addressed, we will see poor

development in a child’s face and airway that can lead to side effects of poor sleep, breathing and health

as a child and adult. The consequences of mouth breathing are wide ranging, and, in some children,

these consequences are irreversible.

Consequences of mouth breathing:

- Dry mouth

- Dental decay and increased gum inflammation

- Bruxism or grinding teeth

- Increased risk of upper airway problems

- Crowded teeth

- Irregular bite

- Poor facial development such as long face syndrome

- Restless sleep

- Sleep deprivation

- Daytime drowsiness

- Increased risk of behavioral, socio-emotional and learning problems

- And more…….

Mouth breathing can be an indication of a problem of the upper airway, the lower airway, the mouth or

often a combination. The most common causes include: allergies, allergic rhinitis, enlarged adenoids

and tonsils, deviated septum, nasal disuse, oral restriction, and a narrow palate. All these conditions can

make it difficult to breathe through the nose resulting in mouth breathing.

So as a parent, what can you do? The most important thing you can do is to note the signs and

symptoms and bring them to a knowledgeable airway focused provider. Taking a 2 minute video of your

child sleeping when they are healthy is a wonderful tool for your providers. By paying close attention to

your child and seeking a proper diagnosis and early treatment, we can often treat the issue before these

symptoms progress resulting in long term issues. Dr. Shereen Lim says it best in her book Sleep, Breath,

Thrive: “When mouth breathing goes unaddressed in the critical early years of facial development, it

leaves a permanent mark on their facial development and alters a child’s trajectory of breathing, sleep,

learning, and total health.”

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