The nose is designed for breathing, but the mouth is not. Most babies are born as nasal breathers, with their lips competently closed. However, some may develop mouth breathing habits that may be caused by a number of factors, including (but not limited to):
- Narrowed and/or obstructed upper airway
- Tethered oral tissues (tongue ties, lip ties, cheek ties)
- Weak muscle tone (possibly due to soft diet causing lack of chewing)
- Poor parafunctional habits (such as thumb-sucking, dummy-sucking, and finger-sucking)
- Poor nutrition (processed and sugary foods can be pro-inflammatory to the human body)
- Allergies (may be seasonal)
Other causes of mouth breathing may also be the results of the mouth breathing itself, including:
- Narrowed jaw bones
- Crooked teeth
- High palate
- Long narrow face
- Incompetent lip seal
- Enlarged adenoids and/or tonsils
Because the nose is designed for breathing, the nasal passages act to humidify, warm and moisten the air. This air mixes with a gas, called Nitric Oxide, that is produced within the nasal sinuses. Nitric Oxide regulates the blood flow to deliver Oxygen into the cells of the bodily organs and reduces blood pressure, optimizing functional health.
With mouth breathing, none of the above happens. The body and brain become deprived in Oxygen, which can interrupt sleep, increasing the risk of developing sleep apnoea that may contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Additionally, to mouth breathe, the lips need to be open and the tongue posturing low in the mouth, causing the jaws to become narrowed. Consequently, the teeth erupt crowded and crooked due to lack of room, the palate remains high, and the bite develops abnormally. All of which can result in major orthodontic problems that may require significant treatment, even possible surgery.
Functionally, the swallow can be reversed, the tongue may begin to thrust, and the lips and cheeks become hyperactive. When such orofacial myofunctional disorder does not get corrected, future orthodontic treatment will then have higher risk of relapsing, because forms follow functions.
As part of orofacial myofunctional pre-orthodontic therapy, establishing nasal breathing is one important element. When breathing through the nose, then the lips can be competently closed, and the tongue can rest and function against the palate. The therapy usually involves a number of daily exercises and using myofunctional appliances (tools) that act like gym equipment for the muscles of the mouth and face. These tools are removable, easy to insert, remove and clean, and are much more comfortable than fixed braces. In most cases, braces can even be avoided completely, especially if the patient is very compliant in following the routine of practicing the exercises and using the myofunctional tools daily.
Tethered oral tissues, such as tongue ties, lip ties and/or cheek ties, may need to be released to allow effective re-training of these orofacial muscles.
A referral to an Ear Nose and Throat specialist may be indicated if there are upper airway issues suspected. In some occasions, a referral to a breathing coach may be required for a much more focused breathing re-training program.