A Little Mouth Breathing Can Be a Big Problem

sleep apnea

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Dr. Krysta Manning

Caring for Dental Patients on the Spectrum: I Get It.

If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your mouth shut. And I say that, not as some sort of bully, but as a concerned dental professional. Allow me to explain. Many people have a habit of “mouth breathing,” taking in air through open, slack jaws, versus through their nose. This behavior has the potential to start a downward spiral of health complications, including sleep-breathing disorders.

How Mouth Breathing Can Affect Your Overall Health

Mouth breathing, which really is mostly an unconscious habit, may seem like a harmless action. However, it’s one that puts a lot of strain on the entire orofacial complex – those muscles, tissues, bones, and other components that allow us to chew, swallow, breathe and speak. Which is why finding the root cause of this type of breathing is essential.

Mouth breathing begins wreaking its havoc with the muscles in the cheek. They become taut (from being open), causing strain on the jaw, leading to improper/underdevelopment in both the upper and lower part of the jaw. Which then can result in teeth crowding and narrowing of the jaws, leaving less than ample space for the tongue. All of these ill effects cause the body to try and compensate for these complications. Sometimes that means that an individual’s neck will slowly start to move forward (called forward head posture), leading not only to neck pain, but also to headaches and other complications.

Furthermore, the act of mouth breathing can promote a generally unhealthy oral environment. Because air is not properly inhaled through the nose, there is no beneficial humidification and filtration of airborne pathogens. So, the body takes in more bacteria, leading not just to decay and thus cavities, but to greater overall health issues as well.

Mouth Breathing and Sleep Apnea

Perhaps not surprisingly, this detrimental mouth breathing behavior occurs most while we are asleep. Within the past two years, dentistry has become so aware of this night-time habit and its ill effects that there is a realization that sleep breathing disorders may be at epidemic levels. There are many symptoms of sleep-breathing disorders that are disguised as a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the world of dentistry is beginning to acknowledge and address these issues, including:

  • Restless sleep (including snoring, night walking, multiple trips to the bathroom)
  • Gasps, pauses and short or shallow breathing
  • Infections
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Neurological problems (including lower cognition from lack of oxygen)
  • Headaches
  • Tongue issues (such as tethered tongue, lip-tie or tongue thrust)

Not just affecting adults, children can also often have issues such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids, which can lead to mouth breathing and thus sleep-breathing disorders. In addition to the above symptoms, children may exhibit some of these indications of sleep-breathing issues:

  • Night terrors
  • Hyper activity during the day — often confused for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Bed wetting
  • Seizures

How Dentistry Is Making a Difference

While CPAP therapy (the breathing machine used by so many) is the gold standard in treating sleep apnea, there are also a number of ways dentistry can help to provide solutions. For example, biomimetic oral appliances (retainer-like dental aids), in conjunction with an attention to bone regrowth, can be used to manipulate the structure of the mouth and the surrounding area. The benefits of this type of treatment include:

  • Airway expansion
  • Enhanced cheekbones
  • Facial symmetry

Have you been experiencing any of these symptoms? It could be that the cause is as simple as mouth breathing. And hopefully realizing that, and knowing that dentistry can help, is enough to help you breathe just a little easier.


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