When you notice children breathing through their mouths, it’s a good idea to investigate it further. Sometimes, mouth breathing in children can signify a more significant health concern, or it might only be a bad habit that you need to break before it starts to affect their dental health overall. 

So, the question is this: how can you tell when mouth breathing is a sign of something problematic? The answers might surprise you, and it’s actually a common condition we see all the time in the field of pediatric dentistry. This article provides you with what you should know regarding children’s airways and how it relates to dental health during their most formative years of development. 

Importance of Proper Breathing

Breathing through the nostrils is always the healthier way to breathe for many reasons. That’s why you should always encourage nasal breathing whenever you see your child starting to form a habit of mouth-breathing when he doesn’t necessarily have to. Breathing through the nose delivers more oxygen to the body, and it also acts as a filter that prevents particles from entering the lungs.

For example, suppose you walk into a dusty room. In that case, the mucus in your nasal passages keeps the particles and allergens out of your upper airway, so you can breathe without noticing anything except maybe an urge to sneeze – your body’s natural response. The only exception to nasal breathing is when your child is sick, and he has no choice but to breathe that way until he recovers.

Therefore, it is recommended for parents to monitor their child’s breathing habits, especially as they sleep, but you should also pay attention to how they’re breathing during the day as well. Not every child automatically knows the proper way to breathe, and if you don’t correct it early on, mouth breathing can become a habit and eventually cause various dental and general health problems.

Why is mouth-breathing bad for children?

Pediatricians say that nasal breathing is the healthy way to take in air and oxygen, but you may still be wondering why that is the case. Mainly, your child shouldn’t breathe through the mouth because her throat and tongue can’t filter air the same way that her nose can. Mouth breathing allows unfiltered air directly into the lungs. Secondly, it can lead to tooth decay and gum diseases because the mouth is continuously dry due to mouth breathing.

Consequences of breathing only through the mouth

Keeping your mouth open all the time can change how the upper and lower jawbones form, which can crowd a child’s teeth and lead to poor swallowing habits as well. But the good news is that mouth breathing in children is treatable – and it can also lead to an early diagnosis of your child’s possible airway issues.

Still, if the problem goes on and becomes a habit during adulthood, your child is at a higher risk of developing sleep problems later in life. Nevertheless, you might notice that your child’s mouth itself might be causing the problem. For instance, your child might have trouble holding her mouth closed or her lips together as if something might be in the way. If this is the case, you should contact a pediatrician as soon as possible to see whether or not your child has enlarged tonsils and adenoids that could be obstructing the airway.

Health problems caused by mouth-breathing

The difficult part about mouth breathing in children is that it can signify other health problems aside from bad teeth, such as sleep-disordered breathing. No matter how old we are, getting a good night’s sleep is vital for our mental and physical well-being, especially for children, and requires more rest to help their bodies grow, develop and recover.

The catch is that everyone’s body is different, and some children will develop the habit of breathing through their mouth to compensate for a partially obstructed airway. The root cause varies from case to case, but often, it’s the tongue that’s getting in the way and interfering with how your child breathes at night.

If left untreated, sleep-disordered breathing can lead to developmental issues, behavioral problems, and high blood pressure in a worst-case scenario. Without a doubt, a good night’s rest really is that important to your health and your child’s health too. That’s another reason why you shouldn’t ignore mouth breathing because your child could be suffering from poor sleeping habits, and you might not even realize how serious the issue has become until other problems start to come to light.

Early warning signs of poor sleeping habits in children

When a child isn’t sleeping well, they don’t yet have the language skills to express how they feel, so you’ll most likely be able to tell in other ways. Mainly, poor sleeping habits can lead to daytime drowsiness and difficulty concentrating. It’s common for children to get cranky from time to time, especially when they need a nap. Still, you’re looking for a different type of irritability and moodiness other than the usual temper tantrum. Some children even express poor sleeping habits such as hyperactivity or fidgeting. The hard part is that many of these signs also suggest attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, so it’s best to look for the cause of the sleeping issue, which may or may not be mouth breathing.

How to tell your child is breathing through the mouth too much?

That said, the easiest way to tell whether or not your child is mouth breathing too much is to notice whether or not they’re making any odd breathing sounds while they sleep. Since breathing is an involuntary response, it’s not the best idea to have your child breathe on command because they won’t be taking in air the way they naturally do. Paying attention to how they’re breathing in their sleep is the better way to tell.

The trick is that you’re not necessarily looking for a snore but rather anything that sounds out of the ordinary because breathing should be silent for the most part. But if it isn’t fully silent, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something wrong because some of us simply sleep heavier than others. Additionally, it would be best if you also watch out for these signs:

  • Bedwetting
  • Grinding teeth
  • Frequent waking up
  • Sweating
  • Odd sleep positions

Certainly, children experience these things from time to time, but what you’re looking for is whether or not their breathing is the cause and not a quirk they’re developing. That’s why it’s so important to consult with a dentist to try to see what’s causing the mouth breathing before moving on to a pediatrician. A simple solution might suffice more than you assume.

Can a dentist identify mouth-breathing issues?

Yes, mouth-breathing falls within the purview of pediatric dentistry, so your child’s dentist or orthodontist who is well-versed in Airway Dentistry will be able to explain the dynamics of mouth breathing in greater detail and point out any problems. You should be able to identify the most common signs of sleep-disordered breathing after a comprehensive dental exam.

During the exam, for example, your dentist might notice that your child’s tongue is out of position or that the shape of her mouth and face might make him more susceptible to mouth breathing. Either way, it’s best to detect any poor breathing habits as early as possible so they don’t progress and eventually start to harm jaw development, become a long-term habit, or obstruct the child’s airway.

If your dentist does find something wrong, you’ll have different treatment options available, yet the specific treatment will depend on what’s actually causing the mouth breathing. Sometimes, the source of the problem will require the help of a pediatrician or other specialists; however, you can also get by with habit-correcting exercises to encourage more nasal breathing if you find out that nothing is structurally wrong with your child’s mouth and teeth.

Contact Dr. Diana Wu at Issaquah Premier Dental to learn more

If you’d like to learn more about how mouth breathing might be affecting your child’s health and monitor your child’s dental health you can contact us to book an appointment with Dr. Diana Wu. As a general and pediatric dentist with numerous awards, Dr. Wu offers the latest treatments in a high-tech, modern dental office built and operated accordingly to a patient-centered care philosophy.