The short answer – yes. Most people don’t ever think about their breathing. It is an intrinsic, biologic process that just happens for most of us. If you’re one of the unlucky few who has had to struggle with breathing issues due to sinus conditions, asthma, airway obstruction, or other concerns, you know that a deep breath is nothing to take for granted. As you’ve been reading this introductory paragraph, have you noticed your breathing? Are you taking in and expelling air through the nose, the mouth, or a combination of both? The majority of people breathe in and out through the nose, but there are some people whose bodies have compensated for airway issues through mouth breathing. While this may seem harmless, mouth breathing can be a warning sign of underlying concerns, and research indicates it may even put you at great risk for poor oral health. Keep reading to learn more about the potential risks of mouth breathing and the importance of preventive dentistry to counteract the adverse oral health consequences experienced by some mouth breathers.
Causes of Mouth Breathing
All of us have been mouth breathers at some point in our lives, unless you’ve made it through every cold, flu, and allergy season blissfully unimpacted by sinus congestion. This is not the kind of mouth breathing we’re referring to. What we mean when we say mouth breather is a person who almost exclusively breathes in and out through their mouth rather than their nose. Most people who breathe through their mouths regularly do so because of an underlying health concern. Some of the common causes include:
- Severe, chronic allergies, colds, and sinus conditions
- Asthma, COPD, and other severe, chronic breathing issues
- Deviated septum (the part of the nose the separates the left and right nostrils)
- Tonsil or adenoid enlargement or inflammation
- History of thumb or digit-sucking behaviors leading to poor jaw and tooth development
- Polyps or cysts in the sinus, throat, or other parts of the airway
- Abnormality at birth or abnormal development of airway structures, including cleft lip and palate
Potentially Adverse Effects
Mouth breathing has been closely linked to many oral health conditions. When you breathe through the mouth, you are constantly drying up saliva. The body produces saliva to do a lot of important work to preserve your oral health. When you eat, oral bacteria produce plaque that is sticky, acidic, and potentially damaging to all of your dental structures. Saliva is extremely basic, so it sets to work neutralizing the highly acidic plaque. If you breathe through your mouth, this saliva is dried up, and your smile is under attack from acidic plaque buildup without the defense it needs from saliva. This leads to increased risk for tooth decay (cavities), gum disease, and halitosis (chronic bad breath).
Additionally, most mouth breathers hold their jaw partially open for extended periods of time. This can lead to strain on the jaw joints, improperly fitting bite, and other jaw issues that can be very painful and will need to be corrected through orthodontic treatment, oral surgery, and other complex procedures.
In addition to these oral health concerns, there are a number of whole-body health conditions that can occur due to mouth breathing, including:
- Changed or impeded speech
- Higher risk for snoring and sleep apnea
- Difficulty swallowing
- Greater chances for airway complications like asthma
- More frequently sinus infections
- Enlarged tonsil and adenoids
Possible Treatment Options
The treatment for mouth breathing starts with a thorough examination and consultation. We want to determine the underlying cause of the condition. Then, a treatment plan will be developed to address the specific needs. You may need to work with a combination of healthcare practitioners, including dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, ENTs (ear, nose, and throat specialists), sleep doctors, and speech pathologists. Treatment may include any combination of the following:
- Orthodontic alignment
- Jaw surgery
- Treatments to address underlying health conditions like asthma or sinus issues
- Physical therapy to improve the function and position of the jaw
- Speech therapy to improve the clarity of speech
- Removal of tonsils and adenoids
- Correction of deviated septum
Meet the McCarl Dental Group Team
If you’re struggling with poor oral health due to mouth breathing or any other condition, the McCarl Dental group is here to help. With two convenient dental office locations in Millersville and Greenbelt, Maryland, there’s a McCarl Dental Group location nearby. Our team of dentists and oral health care experts are here to help you keep your smile healthy and beautiful. Call either of our dental offices to get started with your dentistry plan today.