Did you know that May is Mouth Breathing Awareness month? Mouth breathing can lead to a slew of health problems because it bypasses the filtration system of the nose. It can lead to health issues such as chronic bad breath, periodontal disease, cavities, gastrointestinal issues, allergies and even more serious disorders like poor jaw and facial development and sleep disordered breathing, such as sleep apnea. In children, mouth breathing significantly impacts the way the skull, brain, face, and airways grow. If left untreated, mouth breathing will lead to chronic health problems.
So why do some people breathe through their mouth and others through their nose? Mouth breathing is generally attributed to small airway size or airway obstruction. Common causes of mouth breathing include structural abnormalities, such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids, allergies, rhinitis, sinusitis, high palate, deviated septum, tongue tie, thumb sucking or prolonged pacifier use, and narrow nose. Mouth breathing creates an unhealthy cycle, as the things that cause mouth breathing also perpetuate it.
Mouth breathing can have a serious impact on the entire body. It is often said that the mouth is the gateway to our
body’s overall health. It is important to understand that everything in
the body, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes is related and affects each other. One would not think that the way that you breathe could possibly be related to the health of your spine, but the effects of living with mouth breathing can be seen throughout the body. In an attempt to open the airway, a primary structural shift will often cause the head to sit forward on the spine, away from your center of gravity. This causes the body to adapt by making postural changes in order to alleviate the pressure that this causes on the brain stem. This abnormal posture leads to development of a Dowager’s, or “granny” hump, which is the bulging that can be seen at the base of the neck just between the shoulders. Not only can this cause neck pain and tension, but it puts strain on the muscles in the front and back of the neck. These muscles attach directly onto the rib cage and base of the skull. Chronic strain on the bones of the skull can lead to deformation of the hard palate and improper position of the tongue. Very tight muscles in the front of the neck also makes resting with the jaw shut more difficult.
Mouth breathing is a habit and can be broken, once the underlying cause is found and breathing is restrained. Breathing re-education is often a team approach between a number of healthcare providers, such as chiropractors, myofunctional therapists, breathing coaches, ENTs, and dentists. Together, these providers can identify and alleviate barriers to nasal breathing and work to improve posture, oral function, and strengthen the airways.