Mouth Breathing and How it Causes Malocclusion

Does your child breathe through their mouth? If yes, you may want to read this.

Regular breathing through the mouth is often the product of nasal congestion (due to persistent allergies or colds) and/or inflamed or infected tonsils and adenoids due to viral infections. Mouth breathing is also usually indicative of an underlying health problem and if left unchecked, can have long-lasting consequences to the child’s health. In particular, persistent mouth breathing hinders facial growth and development. How? Because when the mouth is open, it drags everything down and backwards - it pulls the tongue down from its natural resting place on the top of the mouth, it drags the chin down and backwards, the jaw joints get jammed, and it drags the nose down creating a slight bump or hook. For these reasons, mouth breathing results in an abnormally long face, a recessed jawline and chin, a flatter nose, a narrower mouth, a gummy smile and ultimately, crowded teeth.

Not only does it have aesthetic consequences, but also functional whereby the muscles in the face and jaw do not function properly - often resulting in bite dysfunction, which is known to cause headaches, migraines and facial pain.

What to do if Your Child Breathes Through Their Mouth?

The reasons for mouth breathing are often manifold - requiring treatments on multiple fronts. Due to this complexity, first principles thinking must be adopted. Instead of looking to address the symptoms of mouth breathing - straightening teeth with braces, for example - the objective should be to uncover and correct the cause. So, it must first be established WHY the child is breathing through their mouth. Is it due to allergies? If so, where are these allergies coming from - could it be a product of diet? Is it due to constant congestion? If so, why is the child constantly sick - are they dealing with an immune challenge? Is it due to thumb sucking? If so, how do we go about correcting this habit?

If there is an underlying health issue restricting the child’s ability to breath normally through the nose, and it is not addressed, it is highly unlikely that dental intervention will be successful. This is especially true of traditional orthodontics (which are primarily concerned with straightening the teeth as opposed to correcting posture). Thus, it is imperative the child can breathe through the nose before the dental intervention begins.

How to Correct Facial Growth as a Result of Mouth Breathing

There are two approaches to correcting the consequences of mouth breathing; orthodontics and orthotropics.

Orthodontics concentrates primarily on the teeth - seeking to straighten them by way of braces, extractions and other appliances. Orthotropics, on the other hand, focuses on posture and looks to create new postural habits that are conducive to improved facial growth. The teeth will straighten as a consequence.

If a child has become accustomed to breathing through their mouth, they will have also become accustomed to certain postural habits - namely hanging their mouth open at all times. It is the habit of having the mouth constantly open that causes improper facial growth and Malocclusion. 

For this reason, orthotropics encourages patients to have their mouth closed, teeth together and tongue on the roof of the mouth at all times. The tongue is the strongest muscle in the mouth, and when it sits on the palate (the roof), it forces the maxilla (upper jaw bone) to widen - thus creating more room for the teeth. Similarly, the tongue is connected to the mandible (lower jaw bone), so when it sits on top of the mouth, it forces the mandible up - reducing the length of the face. This, consequently, encourages the jaw and nose to grow forward instead of down - creating a much more aesthetically pleasing face. To this end, form and function are intertwined - meaning; good aesthetics are usually an indicator of good health and vice versa.

Most importantly, orthotropics recognises the body and all of its parts as an interconnected whole. Because of this, it lays the foundations for continued proper facial growth into adulthood - reducing the likelihood of further intervention later in life.