I would like to thank Dentist, Nic Lippis, who has a special interest in sleep disorders and early intervention in childhood growth and development disorders, for providing this fantastic overview and understanding on mouth breathing. As a mother of young adults I wish I had access to this information when my kids were young, this is valuable information to parents of young children.
Mouth Breathing and its Effect on Childhood
Mouth breathing is a common habit that is present in more than 50% of children. Common risk factors include swollen adenoids and tonsils or a blocked, stuffy nose. Breathing through an open mouth is extremely detrimental to the development of the face, teeth and upper airways. Left untreated in childhood the habit results in abnormal facial features and smaller airways in adulthood. When a child mouth-breathes, the brain receives insufficient oxygen. Long term, this has been shown to have a direct impact on cognitive ability, learning and behaviour.
Mouth breathing at night can result in sleep-disordered breathing with problems such as snoring and sleep apnea. No child should ever snore. There is also proof that mouth breathing causes learning difficulties.
Children who mouth-breathe will struggle to reach their full potential. Mouth breathing in children is always caused by some sort of obstruction in the airways or an airway that is narrow for some reason.
Obstruction is often the result of swollen adenoids and/or tonsils. Other things that can contribute to mouth breathing include lower airway issues including asthma, thumb sucking, excessive use of the dummy, bottle feedings high narrow palate (children with a high narrow palate are 2.99 times more likely to mouth-breathe), a small nose, tongue tie, lip tie, deviated nasal septum and even the environment (an excessively warm or poorly ventilated home). Another common cause is a condition called allergic rhinitis, (hay fever).
2. Affects on Learning Ability, Behaviour and Psychological Wellbeing.
Research has demonstrated that if a child aged 8 is left with untreated snoring, there is an 80% chance that he or she will develop a 20% lifelong reduction in mental capacity. Mouth breathing, sleep apnea and snoring in early childhood increase the risk of neurocognitive and behavioural problems by age of four, and children with sleep-disordered breathing are 40% more likely to develop special educational needs (SEN).
When a child is labelled with ADD or ADHD then the parent or carer should check their sleeping habits and ask for the child to have a sleep study done.
3. Habitual Mouth Breathing in Childhood Causes Abnormal Development of the Face and Teeth.
A close relationship has been proven between mouth breathing during childhood and abnormal facial growth. The link between mouth breathing and straight teeth was first examined in the 1970s by a Norwegian orthodontist called Egil Harvold. His experiment compared a group of monkeys whose nostrils were blocked with silicone plugs, forcing them to mouth breathe by default, with a control group who had no nasal obstruction. As they grew, the faces of the mouth breathing monkeys began to look very different from the control monkeys. Their faces became long, their teeth crooked, and their facial and neck muscles adapted to form an oral airway. Even after the nasal plugs were removed they continued to mouth breathe and their facial features were permanently retained.
Is Your Child Mouth Breathing?
The best advice to give to parents is to monitor their child’s breathing pattern. Try to observe the breathing when their child is concentrating while doing homework, sleeping or watching TV, or playing games. Check how long your child maintains an open mouth posture – if the mouth is open at least 40% of the time then you must take action. have your child assessed by someone who is trained to examine and assess your child properly.
- Is your child breathing through an open mouth?
- Are they twisting and turning during the night, waking up with bedclothes and sheets in a tangled mess?
- Do they snore or hold their breath during sleep?
- Is their breathing audible during sleep?
- Is sleep disrupted?
- Do they have nightmares, wake up needing to use the bathroom or wet the bed during the night?
- Are they tired when they wake up in the morning?
- Do they complain about having a dry mouth and a blocked stuffy nose when they wake up?
- Does your child have dark circles under the eyes?
- Answering yes to one or more of these questions may suggest that your child is suffering the detrimental effects of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), and /or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Book in now to have your child assessed by Nic Lippis we are offering a special initial assessment for $80, we want as many parents as possible to be able to access Nic’s expertise and skills in this area and have your child assessed. Nic also assesses Adults. Book online or call us on 8332 2271.
DeLong, G.F., Smith, J. ‘Habitual Mouth-Breathing and Consequent Malocclusion of the teeth’. The Dental cosmos; a monthly record of dental science: Volume 51, Issue 2 , Febuary, 1909, 200-204
Alqutami, J., Elger, W., Grafe, N., Himisch, A., Kiess, W. and Hirsch, C. ‘Dental health, halitosis and mouth breathing in 10-to-15 year old children: A potential connection.’ European journal of paediatric dentistry 20, no.4 (2019): 274.
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