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What is So Bad About Mouth Breathing?

By Larry Pribyl, D.D.S.

What is So Bad About Mouth Breathing?If you or your child only has this condition occasionally during a cold or a temporary allergic situation, chances are your dental health will not be affected. However, long term mouth breathing (meaning 4 months or longer) can have a profound effect on the development of your dental arches and the alignment of your teeth. This is particularly true during a child’s growing years. If left untreated, problems may follow into adulthood. If you have been a mouth breather since childhood, you may face additional problems regarding dental work as an adult. It may also contribute to Sleep Disordered Breathing. Having a good, open upper airway and being able to breathe freely through your nose with your mouth closed provides the most efficient means of breathing and obtaining oxygen. People who have a restricted airway often suffer from heavy snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The cause of this condition could be chronic allergies, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, a deviated nasal septum or enlarged turbinates.

Negative Effects
of Mouth Breathing
Constantly breathing through the mouth leads to a forward head posture and a forward tongue position. Allergy patients often have puffiness and dark “rings” under their eyes. They may also have a long, narrow face with an upturned nose. The tongue is a strong muscle that often causes the front teeth of a mouth breather to flare forward. If your case is severe, you may have what dentists call an “open bite.”  This occurs when the front teeth do not come together at the same time as the back teeth. The tongue naturally belongs between the two dental arches which should be in a normal wide flat shape. When someone has an open bite, the cheeks dominate and cause the roof of the mouth to form a narrow “V” shape. This will result in a lack of space for all the teeth to align properly.

A Medical Condition That May
Require Medical Treatment
Mouth breathing is a medical condition and although dentists usually recognize the symptoms during routine dental exams, it is important to have any necessary medical treatment to eliminate the causes. This might involve allergy treatments, surgical removal of tonsils or adenoids or treatment for infected or swollen turbinates. Once these issues are resolved, your dentist will most likely use orthodontic techniques to correct the bite. A palatal expander may be used to correct the narrow “V” shaped palate. The top of the mouth is the bottom of the nose area so palatal expansion often improves nasal breathing as well.

A restricted upper airway can have a negative effect on the growth and development of the face and jaw. Most of the growth of these structures occurs before puberty. For this reason, the earlier the condition is treated, the easier the correction is due to the elasticity of tissues. Once a person reaches the age of 18-20, bone growth and development is largely completed and therefore treatment is more difficult—but not impossible.

Take the Epworth
Sleepiness Scale Test
It is also beneficial to have a sleep study done if you suspect you have sleep apnea. Your primary care doctor will order that test based upon your symptoms. An Epworth Sleepiness Scale test is a great tool we have available on our website, www.tmjsleepapnea.com. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Pribyl for a Sleep Apnea consult by calling our office at 816-795-1000.

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