Children’s Dental Health

What You Need to Know If Your Child Snores, Grinds or Is a Mouth Breather

Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose can impact your child's development. Here's what to look out for as a parent.

by Dr. Burhenne

What You Need to Know If Your Child Snores, Grinds or Is a Mouth Breather

“Sleeping like a baby” is how we describe a perfect night’s sleep — restful and restorative. For children, sleep is a time of growth and brain development.

But many newborns and children aren’t sleeping well and, as a result, are missing out on that restorative sleep that lets them grow and develop to their genetic potentials.

Snoring, mouth breathing, and grinding and clenching the teeth are all signs of sleep-disordered breathing or obstructive sleep apnea in children.

How Does Mouth Breathing Hurt My Child?

While it may seem harmless, mouth breathing affects how your child develops, your child’s behavior and personality, as well as the adult that your child grows up to be.

Most healthcare professionals, including your doctor, might tell you not to worry about mouth breathing and insist that your child will “grow out of it.”

But the truth is, mouth breathing can have devastating effects on the development of the face and airway.

How Mouth Breathing Changes Facial and Oral Development

When nasal breathing is blocked, facial and dental development become abnormal.

In both human and animal studies, when nasal breathing is blocked, untreated mouth breathing leads to development of long, narrow faces with crooked teeth, receded jaw, and future TMD and headache issues.mouth breathing development

But it’s not just about looks. When the jaw and airway don’t fully develop, the airway can become easily obstructed during sleep.

During the complete muscle relaxation of deep stage sleep, the muscles around the airway also relax and collapse. The airway is a tight space, often made tighter by large tonsils and adenoids in both children and infants.

If the airway becomes obstructed, the brain must bounce out of deep sleep and into a lighter stage of sleep in order to grind and clench to push the jaw forward to allow for breathing again.

Grinding and clenching are the body’s way of reopening a collapsed airway during sleep to start breathing again. This is why grinding and clenching are the new red flag for catching sleep apnea early on.

How Mouth Breathing Impacts Behavior and Personality

Interrupting deep sleep like this impacts development.

development of mouth breathersDeep sleep is when Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is released, which is essential to a child’s brain development and long bone growth. Once deep sleep is interrupted, HGH stops being secreted. Not having enough HGH stunts your growth and brain development.

Deep sleep is the body’s chance to restore, repair, and heal from the stress of the day. It’s a time of memory consolidation and cementing learning. Hormones that control appetite and other critical functions are regulated and stabilized during this stage.

In a child who is snoring, grinding and clenching, or breathing through the mouth, the brain is not able to rest and sleep is not restorative.

Children who are deprived of deep sleep are often hyperactive as a result of adrenaline used to compensate for sleepiness. They often aren’t able to achieve their academic potential because their brains and bodies aren’t at their best in this damaged, deep sleep-deprived state. They’re often diagnosed with ADHD and other behavioral issues. They have lowered immune systems, poor health, and can be overweight.

For more, check out my #1 bestselling book The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox.

Strategies for Parents

  • Make sure your child can breathe through her nose with ease.
  • Make sure your child has seen a dentist by age one. Make sure that this dentist is concerned with recognizing mouth breathing and its implications.
  • Make sure your child is treated for allergies. Allergies can force children into mouth breathing.
  • Make sure that your child’s diet and environment aren’t contributing to allergies.
  • Ask your dentist if your child needs a referral to an orthodontist if he’s mouth breathing.

Sources

read next: Mouth Breathing: What Every Parent Needs to Know

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21 Comments

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  1. of the day include lunch, rceses or snack time. They may even be a big fan of all three. Because February is National Children’s Dental Health Month we will be sharing tip and activities in relation to

  2. Also be sure to check your child for a tied tongue frenum. This can prevent the tongue from resting properly during sleep (in an elevated position) and can pull on the jaw, causing a recess. Also, if the tongue can’t elevate properly, it can’t help to smooth and widen the palate, causing a high “bubbled” palate, which can essentially “smoosh” the sinuses, causes further issues, even with the ears.

  3. Interesting article but what can a dentist or orthodontist do for a child under 5 that grinds their teeth? Surely unable to wear a removable appliance and telling parents that they are going to suffer adhd and growth problems as a result is not going to help the situation just cause worry.

    • Have the child evaluated by an OMT for tongue and lip tie. The ties can be revised and then exercise can be prescribed to tone up the oral muscles nad elminate mouth breathing. You’ve noticed the grinding, now it’s time to look into cause!

  4. What do you suggest for an adult mouth breather? My husband dismisses this as an issue, yet he’s taken high blood pressure medication since his early 30s. He’s also done a sleep study resulting in the removal tonsils (and clipping of his uvula which bothered him for some time!).

    • I’d recommend myofunctional therapy and a check at the ENT for deviated septum/ability to breath through the nose. And after his tonsil and uvula surgery, did he go back and get things verified with a sleep study? He still may have sleep issues despite the surgery. Never assume one surgery fixes the problem. Good luck!

    • I would recommend his baseline breathing pattern is checked by a breathing educator. Many long-term mouth breathers have developed a pattern of chronic overbreathing (too fast and / or too much air per breath) which dehydrates and inflames upper airway and creates turbulence, vibration (snoring) and suction effect on relaxed throat during sleep. Breathing Retraining helps people back to normal rate, rhythm and volume of breathing (and silent nasal breathing.)

  5. Hi my daughter breathe her mouth n snore the doctor recommended to remove her tonsils n she is 3 n half , my question is my daughter have a speech delay is that the problem?

  6. What is the first thing to do if my child is mouth breathing? Allergies? Dentist? Dr says she is fine; dentist said she is fine. I’ve found her mouth noises and odd swallowing sounds very irritating and her personal quirks very irritating. I’m with her all the time, so it’s grating on me and hindering our relationship. Any ideas would be great; she is 8.

  7. Great post, Dr. B. Very informative. I feel that this is a topic that definitely needs more exposure and it’s not exactly easy to stress the severity of the issue without going into depth like this. I’ll definitely be referring patients to this article.
    Furthermore, I feel that children’s oral care can never be discussed enough! I recently wrote a blog post about proper care for baby teeth because it seems like a lot of patients aren’t aware of the importance of caring for teeth that aren’t permanent, or the specific needs at various ages.
    Thanks so much for another great read!

  8. My child is almost 3 years old and my wife and I noticed that she breathes through her mouth about 2 months ago and we’ve asked doctors but here in Canada (BC) they all pretty much suck in terms of not caring at all for the little ones (they’d care so much more if it was their relative I’m sure). We’ve been given an appointment with a specialist but it’s nearly 2 months away and I’m afraid that by that time she will be used to this and it would be too late to get her to change that habit.

    She doesn’t sleep well and it might’ve affected her sleep since birth because she never slept more than 3 continues hours in the first 18 months. Always woke up every hour or 2 and that affected us as well but after she’s slept better (longer) without waking up a lot. She snored (still sort of does some nights) for weeks and again doctors tell us it’s normal and all the stupid things that we already know or have tried so I’m really not sure what to do at this point. I would love to know how I can help fix this issue for my beautiful daughter (everyone who sees her says she’ll be a heart breaker because she’s so beautiful and I really don’t want to have something like this change her facial features later on).

    By the way she doesn’t/didn’t suck her thumb and we used the pacifier for a short period of time and she breathes ok during the day but it’s a problem when she sleeps only (night and nap times when she takes the naps which isn’t much because she’s always hyper).

  9. Thank you for publishing this article. It was a huge confidence booster for me in deciding to have my 4 year old’s tonsils and adenoids removed and her lower turbinates reduced. I am so wary of anesthesia for small children especially for non life threatening surgery, but it really was adversely affecting her quality of life.

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