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Mouth breathing in children- it’s just the tip of the ice-berg

One of the most important things we can do to improve a child’s present and future health and structural development is to stop them habitually breathing through their mouth. The mouth should only be used for breathing on special occasions like hard sporting activity (and even that can be minimized to the childs benefit).  

Its been well recorded that habitual, excessive mouth breathing does not occur in children living in non industrialized societies. Disturbingly many children in modern westernized societies have their mouth open most of the time. 

This is of concern for 2 reasons 1.  it reflects an underlying deterioration in our children’s health and 2.  it contributes to a whole lot of problems.

The problems caused by habitual mouth breathing include -

·        Increased numbers of colds and upper respiratory infections

·        More asthma and allergies

·        Abnormal swallowing patterns

·        Speech dysfunction

·        Poor posture

·        Dental crowding

·        Narrow face and jaws

·        Increased snoring, sleep apnea and sleep disordered breathing

You can really get a sense of how important it is to correct mouth breathing when you consider that this list of  consequences of mouth breathing themselves cause  even more problems.  For example snoring and sleep apnea in children are associated with a 4 fold increase in ADHD and a range of cognitive, emotional and behavioral difficulties.  The postural changes found in mouth breathers  cause headaches, chronic neck, jaw and back pain.  Uncontrolled asthma lead to increased incidence of emphysema in later adulthood. Its also associated with greater incidence of psychological distress including depression, anxiety and panic disorder.

Simplistic solutions don’t always work

Once a child is mouth breathing it can be difficult to correct. Treatment such as removal of adenoids and tonsils, medication for nasal congestion and dental treatment to expand the maxilla and increase size of the airway can lead to great improvements in many children but research shows that sometimes they are just not enough[1].

Effective solutions often depend on treating the whole child, removing the causes  and customizing the treatment to improve immune and gut health, correct dysfunctional breathing habits and behaviors, posture and muscle function.

Treating the causes of mouth breathing in children

These are some of the causes of mouth breathing that need to be addressed

  • Narrow airway- A narrow airway can be caused by enlarged adenoids, tonsils and other lymphoid tissue in the upper airway, allergy, narrow nasal passages and insufficient/incorrect development of the upper and lower jaws.
  • Allergy and immune problems-Nasal allergy, nasal sensitivity and too many colds can lead to a persistent mouth breathing habit.
  • Digestive problems and reflux- poor gut motility and food intolerances can lead to reflux of stomach acid which irritates the upper airway and leads to hypersensitivity, congestion and swelling.
  • Breathing control dysregulation- Children who have had lots of stress or some kind of airway obstruction or low oxygen in sensitive development periods can develop poor breathing control.       

Breathing, posture and muscle rehabilitation is often the missing link

In many children mouth breathing, dysfunctional breathing and associated conditions can not be  improved without rehabilitative exercises.  Removal of adenoids and tonsils and expansion of the maxilla with a dental appliance can make the size of the airway adequate but unless breathing, posture and muscle function are retrained these problems persists.  

How can parents help their children to improve breathing, posture and muscular function

You may be able to get help for your child with an appropriately trained speech pathologist, osteopath, physiotherapist, orofacial myologist or breathing therapist.

If you would like more information Im doing a brief seminar for parents  titled “How to really help your child’s breathing problem” on  Sat, July 2nd and Wed, July 6th.

You can book online by clicking the links on this website or call us at the Breath and Body Clinic on 02- 99183460


1.            Levrini, L., et al., Model of oronasal rehabilitation in children with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome undergoing rapid maxillary expansion: Research review. Sleep Sci, 2014. 7(4): p. 225-33.

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