Mouth Breathing: What Every Parent Needs to Know

October 3rd, 2023 | 10:45 am

The term “mouth breathing” describes breathing through the mouth as opposed to the nose. Many parents think mouth breathing is fine, won’t hurt kids, and believe that most kids will outgrow it. Mouth breathing is not a concern if it occurs occasionally and has a clear cause, such as a bad cold with sinus congestion. However, if a child is constantly breathing through their mouth, that’s a cause for concern. 

Mouth breathing has several health implications and is often an early sign of sleep-disordered breathing, which can eventually result in sleep apnea, speech difficulties, and improper facial development.

To improve a child’s long-term health, it’s important to address frequent mouth breathing. A child who learns to breathe through their nose rather than their mouth during early childhood will be better equipped to prevent major problems as an adult.

Symptoms/Indications – Child Breathes Through the Mouth

Children who breathe through their mouths often breathe more quickly and audibly. The following symptoms may also be present in many kids who mouth breathe quite frequently: 

  • Enlarged Tonsils & Adenoids – Children with swollen tonsils and adenoids commonly breathe through their mouths. They exhale more carbon dioxide (CO2) when they breathe, which speeds up breathing. The body enlarges the tonsils and adenoids to alleviate this, causing the nasal passage to become obstructed. 
  • Dry Lips and Mouth – Dry mouth and cracked lips are common indications that a youngster is sleeping with their mouth open. They might also wake up multiple times during the night to sip water. Additionally, the risk of irritated gums and cavities may be increased by dry mouth, a sign of low levels of saliva. 
  • Tooth Decay and Cavities – Children are more prone to mouth dryness due to mouth breathing, which can significantly reduce their salivary secretion. A dry mouth increases the risk of tooth decay by elevating the mouth’s pH levels. 
  • Bad breath – Mouth breathing raises the likelihood of developing bad breath. If a child constantly has terrible breath, mouth breathing may be the cause. 
  • Swallowing difficulty – Breathing becomes challenging due to improper jaw growth, which also affects swallowing. Speech difficulties in children may result from the tongue moving forward and developing into an abnormal tongue-thrust swallow. 
  • Change in Posture – Our bodies automatically tuck our necks and shoulders forward when our airways are restricted. Bringing the neck forward helps open the airway since the airway is a flexible pipe. Similarly, sleeping postures that stretch out the neck and widen the airway are common. These posture changes are warning signs that the child may be experiencing an airway blockage of some sort. 
  • Snoring – Mouth breathing in children commonly leads to snoring, which is not natural at any age. Our airways are like flexible pipes, and any blockage can impede air from passing through easily, creating turbulence in the air that is often referred to as snoring.

Causes of Mouth Breathing in Children

It is unusual for a child who regularly breathes through their mouth to do so deliberately. Mouth breathing can result from a variety of common reasons, including:

  1. Nasal obstructions brought on by the flu, allergies, or colds.
  2. It’s possible that the child’s jaw and mouth aren’t designed to close properly, leading to a preference for mouth breathing.
  3. Sleep apnea caused by swollen tonsils or adenoids, which can result in soft tissue collapse in the throat.
  4. Breathing through the nose can become challenging due to an irregular septum, which is the cartilage separator between the nostrils.

How Can Parents Stop Children From Mouth Breathing?

Parents can start by carrying out the following actions:

  • Keep an eye out for any signs of mouth breathing or the child resting with their mouth open. How frequently does this occur every day?
  • Check to see if the child has any of the aforementioned breathing or airway problems.
  • Consider speaking with a medical professional who specialises in breathing and sleep. The doctor can determine the best course of action and treatment approach.
  • Obtain an assessment from a myofunctional therapist or dentist. A myofunctional therapist is likely familiar with other experts and can guide the child in the right direction.

Consequences of Mouth Breathing on Child Health

Despite the fact that having an open mouth can appear naive to worry about and even seem like something easy to solve, it’s neither. In reality, it brings on a number of grave health problems: 

  • Lowering the child’s quality of sleep, which can lead to sleep apnea and breathing problems when they sleep. 
  • Reduced brain function and IQ drops of up to ten points — which can also be mistaken for ADHD. 
  • Children are more prone to struggle with specific speech sounds while their mouths are open.
  • This can lead to panic incidents, anxiety, and violent behaviour. 
  • A toddler with an open mouth would most likely develop into an adult with flat face shapes, droopier eyes, and lower facial muscular tone, and in certain instances, even a smaller lower jaw. 
  • There can be issues with posture and exhaustion. 
  • Resulting in an underdeveloped immune system. 
  • The likelihood of oral health problems rising.

The Advantages of Nose Breathing

Without a doubt, there are several advantages to breathing through the nose as opposed to the mouth. The way the nose processes air differs from how our mouths do. The process is the body’s method of preserving the child’s well-being and safety by:

  • Assisting in regulating the air temperature so that it is at the ideal level when it enters the lungs.
  • When air enters the nose, microscopic cilia, resembling hairs, filter out poisons and debris.
  • Adding moisture to the air as it is being circulated to prevent dry mouth and a sore throat.
  • Generating nitric oxide, which increases the lungs’ capacity to absorb oxygen.

Mouth Breathing Treatment

While the list of possible health risks linked with mouth breathing may be concerning to some parents, the good news is that most therapies are rather simple. If mouth breathing in children persists, it is important to take action. A doctor can advise surgery in the case of swollen tonsils or adenoids. Antihistamines might be useful for kids who have allergies. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) may benefit individuals with sleep apnea.

At Giggles Hospitals, we prioritise preventative healthcare. Our hospital focuses on offering a comprehensive approach to airway health, tongue knots, and sleep-disordered breathing. Our interdisciplinary team’s primary goals are to provide an accurate diagnosis and thorough treatment planning.