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The Problem with Mouth Breathing

Constant mouth breathing can cause speech disorders, dental problems, enlarged adenoids and tonsils, and change the shape of the face. Early intervention with Speech Pathologist is important to avoid these issues.

By Stephanie Eber, Speech Pathologist

Breathing is something that many of us take for granted. Most of the time, we give it no thought at all, even as it automatically adjusts to our activity level. It simply happens. It may come as a surprise to many that there is a ‘right way’ or ‘wrong way’ to breathe.

Research shows that up to one third of people do not breathe correctly, so much so that it affects their health. Not breathing properly can have an impact on alertness, learning, sleep, and growth and development.

“Over-Breathing” 

In fact, many people ‘over-breathe’ by inhaling too much oxygen, which upsets the delicate balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide that is required for optimal health. Some ways that people over-breathe include heavy breathing, sighing, upper chest breathing, taking big gulps of air before speaking and, most commonly, breathing through their mouths.

We were born to breathe through our noses – that’s why we have nose hairs – and not through our mouths. So why do people mouth-breath? Allergies and nasal obstructions, including enlarged adenoids and/or tonsils and a deviated nasal septum, are typical causes.

Changing how the tongue works

Mouth breathing can change the way the tongue works, and a ‘tongue-thrust’ pattern may develop. The tongue pushes (or “thrusts”) forward against the teeth, or between the teeth when swallowing, chewing and speaking. It should instead of push up against the hard palate, the hard bone at the top of the mouth.

This correct tongue resting position is flat against the hard palate at the top of the mouth, teeth a little apart and lips closed. This position is necessary for healthy growth and development. When a mouth is closed and nasal breathing occurs, the tongue is naturally held in the correct position. 

Children need to be trained when they are young to adopt the correct resting tongue position. If they begin mouth-breathing and their tongue isn’t in the correct position, they are more likely to have speech disorders (such as lisps), dental problems, have enlarged tonsils and adenoids, or develop a high and narrow palate. They may even develop a longer face than they are genetically disposed to have.

Misdiagnosed with learning disorders

Children who mouth-breathe may also have a higher risk of health issues such as allergies, asthma, and sleep disorders. When children have obstructed airways they often do not sleep well at night. This lack of healthy rest negatively affects their growth and learning at school, which can sometimes lead to a misdiagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

If you are concerned about your child’s mouth breathing, first speak to their doctor or dentist. Ask them to check whether your child’s adenoids appear enlarged, and if they recommend a referral to an otolaryngologist (i.e. an ear, nose and throat doctor), or an allergy specialist for an objective evaluation.

Habitual mouth breathing

Once airway issues are resolved, children and adults will often continue to breathe through their mouths as this has become habitual for them. They would likely benefit from Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy to correct the habit, which a Speech Pathologist is trained to provide.

Join Stephanie Eber for a free online presentation that addresses mouth breathing and other oral motor issues on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. For more information, and to register, click HERE.