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Babies and Breathing – Children and Mouth-Breathing

This article will talk about a very important topic on Babies and Breathing – Children and Mouth-Breathing.  The human nose has many important roles.  Two obvious ones, smell and taste, often goes hand in hand.  It is also the gateway to the lungs which provides oxygen to the bloodstream.  As part of the defense barrier that works in concert with your immune system, it warms the air and provides humidification and filtration before it goes into your lungs.  The nose can trap foreign particles as small as 5 microns through a series of filtrations starting from the nose hairs, nasal turbinates, all the way to the mucosal membrane and cilia.   Breathing through the nose is very important in facial anatomic maturation, formation and development of airway physiology.

The human nose and nasal cavity.

What about the mouth?  Some people breathe with their mouths?  What if my baby is a mouth breather?

The mouth is not the normal route for breathing air, not for adults and not for children.  Yes there are people who have adapted for a long time to breathe through their mouths.  However there are health consequences that come with mouth breathing.

Mouth-breathing can lead to many problems such as increase in cavities, increase in viral and bacterial infections, dry mouth, bad breath, chronic fatigue, snoring leading to obstructive sleep apnea and many others.  It can also change your posture and even your facial features.  If you suspect your child to be a mouth-breather, it is important to rectify the problem as soon as it is recognized.

Mouth-breathing requires different positioning of the jaw and posture.  Normally, the tongue is in contact with the roof of the mouth during rest.  This position will counteract the other muscles forces in the mouth leading to normal facial development.  However breathing through the mouth requires the tongue to be dropped to its floor.  It may seem trivial but chronic mouth breathing will eventually lead to abnormal growth and development of the face. Such features are forward head posture, long and narrow face, flattened nose that are small and underdeveloped, shorter upper lip, underdeveloped upper arch of the mouth leading to crowding of the teeth and a smaller jaw.

Focusing on Children and Mouth-Breathing, it is difficult for babies to breathe through the mouth especially from birth to 6 months of age.  As written in the previous article about obligate nose breathing, there is increased airway resistance when breathing through the mouth.  This cause extra energy to be used and unnecessary fatigue to the baby.  Babies from birth to 6 months grow at an extraordinary rate and normal respiration is so important for the well-being of the baby.  The increase in metabolism along with growth require not only frequent feedings but also uninterrupted flow of oxygen.  Oxygen provides a means for energy (ATP) to be created in the human body.  ATP is very important for growth and maintenance for all the organs in the body – especially the brain.  As frequently seen, reduced quality of sleep will also lead to increased irritability during the daytime.  This problem should not only be identified in babies but in all children as well.

One way to determine whether your baby may be a mouth-breather is during feeding. If your baby has to dislatch during breastfeeding or bottle feeding and catch some air and feed again, one can suspect mouth breathing.  There is no need for immediate alarm. It can be a temporary event due to infection but more seriously it can be attributed to seasonal allergies and even anatomical problems.  As for older children, it can be attributed to other causes as well including swollen adenoids or tonsils, nasal polyps, deviated nasal septum and so on.

If you suspect your baby of 6 months and younger to be a mouth breather, consult a pediatrician.  As for older children please identify first whether it is an acute or a chronic symptom.  If you think it is chronic, please consult a pediatrician, an ENT or a dentist who specialize in this field.

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