Mouth Breathing: The Impact on Oro-Facial Development and Speech Development
Written by Dr. Marina Gonchar
Breathing is a fundamental and automatic function, however, the way we breathe can have a significant impact on health and development. Chronic mouth breathing is a common problem that can have a significant impact on oro-facial development and speech development in children. Mouth breathing is when a person breathes though their mouth instead of their nose as their preferred method of breathing. While occasional mouth breathing is normal, particularly because of an illness or allergies, persistent mouth breathing can cause several issues.
The nose is designed to filter, warm, and humidify air prior to its entry into the lungs. Mouth breathing by-passes these mechanisms and result in direct flow of air into the lungs, resulting in several issues. Acute changes noted with mouth breathing include dry mouth, reduces salivary production, increased tooth decay and gum disease, and more frequent upper respiratory infections. Chronic mouth breathing can impact the development of the facial and oro-facial muscles that can result in significant changes of the face and mouth. Mouth breathing can result in changes to the position of the tongue and subsequent development of the jaws and teeth. Leading to bite problems, mostly commonly overbites, underbites, and open bites and changes in tooth position resulting in significant crowding of the teeth or spacing of the teeth. These oro-facial changes can impact speech development resulting in delayed speech and/or articulation errors.
Chronic mouth breathing can impact speech development. Tongue position plays a crucial role in the development of speech sounds. Mouth breathing is accompanied with improper tongue posture, often positioned low in the mouth, compared to the roof of the mouth observed in nose breathers, which makes the production of certain sounds more challenging, which can result in a lisp and other articulation errors. Mouth breathing is also often accompanied by a dry mouth, exacerbating the difficulty in articulating sounds. The improper development of the jaws and improper position of the teeth, as a side effect of mouth breathing, can further contribute to speech errors.
What Can Be Done?
ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist) can provide proper intervention if the mouth breathing is a result of nasal obstruction due to adenoids/tonsils or chronic allergies.
Speech-language pathologist can provide intervention for speech and language difficulties related to mouth breathing. Therapy can include exercises to strengthen the muscles of the mouth and face, instruction on proper tongue position, and techniques to improve and encourage breathing through the nose.
Orthodontist can evaluate for jaw abnormalities and improperly positioned teeth and correct any structural abnormalities that are contributing to the mouth breathing such as a high narrow palate, an underbite, overbite, open bite, severely flared teeth. Orthodontic intervention may include orthopedic appliances, such as a palate expander, and/or partial braces in children as young as 8 years of age.
At home encourage your child to breathe through their nose during quiet activities such as reading or watching TV. Utilize a saline nasal spray to help moisturize the nasal passages. Encourage good oral hygiene habits, brushing and flossing, and drinking adequate amounts of water to keep the mouth moist.
Chronic mouth breathing can have a significant impact on oro-facial development and speech development in children. If your child is a mouth breather it is important to seek evaluation to determine the cause and appropriate treatment to establish a normal nasal breathing pattern to mitigate the effects on speech development, jaw growth, and tooth position.
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