February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! As a family practice, Sierra Smiles is proud to provide compassionate, quality dental care to every member of the family — including children. Our focus on complete health includes helping kids learn how to care for their teeth from a very young age so they can build healthy habits they will carry into adulthood. As part of this special month of education focused on children’s dental needs, we are talking about a part of pediatric dentistry that does not get as much notice as others: children’s airway health.
Is your child a “mouth breather,” or do they consistently snore at night? While these two issues can occur occasionally in children, persistent snoring or mouth breathing can signal that your child may have more serious airway issues. Let’s look at mouth breathing first.
1. Mouth Breathing in Children
The term mouth breathing is more than just a silly playground insult. In children (as well as adults), consistent mouth breathing is a sign that your child is having difficulty breathing using their nasal passages. This can be a real problem! Nasal breathing is actually quite important to our overall wellness. The Cleveland Clinic, a non-profit academic medical center, notes that nasal breathing is imperative from birth. Infants rely on breathing through their noses while eating to be able to eat and breath without choking.
However, the need for nasal breathing goes much deeper than that. Our noses work as filters to protect us as much as possible from germs. They also work as an early warning system to help us detect if we are breathing in something dangerous or if the food we are consuming is bad. As anyone who has lost their sense of taste because of the recent pandemic, they’ll tell you just how frustrating it is to not know if a gallon of milk has gone bad or a meal is burning on the stove until it’s already too late.
Nasal breathing also allows us to take deeper, more fulfilling, more oxygenated breaths than mouth breathing. That’s why you’ll often hear athletes being advised to breathe in slowly through the nose and out through the mouth. Last, nasal breathing has the added benefit of both warming and hydrating the air that we breath before it hits the lungs — which is exactly how our lungs like it!
Without nasal breathing, your child’s body is not functioning the way that it needs to for optimum development. Serious long-term effects of mouth breathing can include:
- Bite issues
- Elongation of the face/jaw
- Poor oral health
- Nasal narrowing
- Sleep apnea
- Cognitive issues
- Behavioral issues
Common Causes of Mouth Breathing in Children
- Bite problems: If your child’s bite is not aligned, it can make it more difficult for them to keep their mouth closed. Simply put, they breathe through the mouth because it is always forced to be slightly open. It’s both a necessity and a habit.
- Jaw problems: Like a child’s bite, correct jaw function can make it difficult for them to breathe through their nose. Correcting issues within the jaw can help encourage nasal breathing.
- Blocked nasal passages: A temporary block caused by a cold is not a concern.
- Habit: Sometimes children just don’t actively breathe through their noses out of pure habit. Adults can often have the same issue, as well.
2. Snoring in Children
Occasional snoring in children is completely normal. A runny nose, an odd sleeping position or just plain ol’ exhaustion can all cause a sleeping child to snore. However, chronic snoring in children is an important issue to address. The Sleep Foundation refers to issues such as this as sleep-disordered breathing.
As with adults, snoring is a concern for children because it can impact the quality of their sleep. Their young bodies are busy taking on the tremendous task of growing and they need a lot of rest for proper development. Sleep is so very critical to brain development, behavior, concentration, and mental health that deprivation can be very harmful to children and teens.
In addition to hindering sleep, snoring can also be a sign that your child is not getting enough oxygen during their sleep cycle. According to the Sleep Foundation, that creates a whole new set of concerns in a developing body. Poor breathing can impact the function of the cardiovascular and nervous systems, not to mention brain development.
The long-term impact of snoring in childhood can include:
- Behavioral disorders
- Mental health disorders
- Difficulty learning
- Cognitive development issues
- Poor heart health
- Chronic health issues well into adulthood
Common Causes of Snoring in Children
- Tonsil and adenoid issues
- Jaw or bite misalignment
- Nasal issues
- Persistent allergies
If your child fits any of the criteria above, bring it up at their next dental exam. Sierra Smiles dentists will help you learn more about potential issues that could be causing your child’s struggles with nasal breathing or snoring. Depending on the cause of their condition, we may even be able to help design a treatment plan to resolve the issue.