Mouth Breathing: A Serious Health Problem

Mouth Breathing: A Serious Health Problem
Posted on 03/12/2018
Mouth Breathing: A Serious Health Problem
S. Kent Lauson, DDS, MS Orthodontist, Aurora, Colorado

A person’s ability to breathe properly through his or her nose, without obstruction, is critical to their health and vitality in many ways; it cannot be overemphasized as a health or quality-of-life issue. Obstructions, however they occur, need to be evaluated and eliminated. Without the elimination of the obstruction, mouth breathing can result and lead to many problems, including poor facial and dental development.

It is important to recognize that, although a child may not see an orthodontist until age seven or even later, many of the problems associated with airway obstruction begin much before that age. Perhaps the most obvious of these problems is when a baby or very young child makes excessive noise while breathing during either waking or sleeping hours. This is a sign that there could be an obstructed nasal passageway. This problem, at whatever age it’s detected, is entirely treatable and must be addressed.

Oxygen is the body’s number-one nutrient, and a person will die when deprived of it for even a few minutes. Because of this, the body has a built-in protection mechanism. When air can’t effectively be drawn in through the nose, the body moves to plan B and draws it in through the mouth. For all intents and purposes, that would seem to solve the problem, except there’s a catch: the body isn’t meant to breathe through the mouth except in an emergency situation requiring a high level of oxygen, such as in athletics.
When a person breathes through his or her mouth in a normal, everyday, non-stressful situation, the body’s knee-jerk solution triggers an avalanche of unintended consequences. Left unchecked, these consequences ripple outward to include many conditions and disorders that can impact the person’s entire body health.
Unless the nasal obstruction is addressed when the patient is a child, it begins to lay the groundwork for future health conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea, TMJ Dysfunctions and even spinal misalignments.  Upper airway obstructions have been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), attention deficit disorder (ADD and ADHD) and even bedwetting.

As we’ve seen, obstructions of the nasal passageway create a domino effect and impact the entire health of the patient.  So what are the causes of nasal obstruction?

A very common cause is an obstruction produced by allergies (allergic rhinitis). Inflammation caused by the presence of an allergen results in swelling of the mucus membranes on the inside of the nasal passageways. This swelling reduces the opening of the nasal passageway, potentially causing an obstruction leading to nasal stuffiness or mouth breathing.  Darkening under the eyes is a condition called allergic shiners and is a warning that a person is challenged by allergies.

Tonsils are those little sacs of lymphatic tissue that can be seen hanging at the back of the throat, and adenoids are hidden just above them. They are the first scrubbing filters against the bacteria and viruses that enter the mouth and nasal passages.  Chronically inflamed tonsils are a breeding ground for colds, hoarseness, bad breath, sore throat and can obstruct the upper airway if they become too large due to inflammation from repeated infections.