Mouth Breather

Suffers retarded brain development and long-face syndrome

Mouth Breather. Healthy Living Magazine

Mouth Breather. Healthy Living Magazine

You know the look. It’s the long, narrow face with crowded teeth and often with a slack jaw and mouth open. Movie character Napoleon Dynamite is a perfect example of the long face syndrome. This condition begins in childhood when the bones of the jaw are growing. There are many opposing forces from the cheeks and the tongue that can influence how the face will look when the growing finishes around age 10.

jaw shape

Tongue position while swallowing acts as an orthodontic appliance, guiding growth of the upper jaw, sinuses and nasal passages. We swallow 500 times a day. With each swallow, the tongue pushes against the roof of the mouth or palate, stimulating stem cells responsible for forward and sideways growth of the upper jaw. This leads to normal jaw development with room for all the teeth.

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chain reaction of breathing

Childhood mouth breathing can lead to a chain reaction of events that will change the way the face and skeletal bones grow, leading to a long lower face. With mouth breathing, the tongue drops from the roof of the mouth and remains down when swallowing. Thus, there is no natural orthodontic appliance action to help the palate grow to the normal size it should be with room for all the teeth. Instead, the mouth breathing swallow leads to a narrow, high vaulted palate. Swallowing with the tongue down and forward actually pulls the chin back and prevents forward growth of the lower jaw. Forces from the cheeks, with no counter force from the tongue on the palate, results in a long narrow face. What isn’t seen when looking at a mouth breather with a long face is the narrow airway. With normal palatal growth forward and sideways, the airway size is often compared to the width of a garden hose. The long face syndrome impinges on the airway space, cutting it down to the size of a cocktail straw. A narrow airway will impact breathing for the person’s entire life, often leading to sleep apnea and, in some cases, early death. Snoring in young children is an early sign that may predict long face syndrome. Kids who mouth breathe might not look as smart as other children, the reason being they get 18% less oxygen in their blood than those who breathe with their nose. Less oxygen causes other problems. Such kids also tend to have poor behavioral patterns. They also tend to perform more poorly in school.

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dry mouth

Mouth breathing dries out the oral cavity, leading to enlarged, infected tonsils and inflamed gum tissue. Dry mouth also contributes to tooth decay and gum disease. Saliva is our natural neutralizer for acid produced by oral bacteria, but mouth breathing dries out the saliva and interferes with this defense system. Waking up with a dry throat is a sure sign of mouth breathing during sleep.

Treating long face syndrome after skeletal growth is complex and involves palatal expansion, orthodontics and often orthodontic surgery to expand the jaws and move them forward to allow enough space for the tongue, the airway and the teeth.

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corrective action

Prevention is much easier and much less expensive, but it has to happen before jaw growth is complete. Breast feeding is the first step in making sure the tongue rests normally against the palate. Bottles and pacifiers are not the same as breast feeding and can result in the tongue resting on the floor of the mouth instead of in the palate.

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In some cases, babies are born with the tongue tethered to the floor of the mouth, a condition called ankyloglossia. A simple surgical procedure releases the ligament under the tongue and allows it to move freely. Done as an infant, breast feeding will be easier. If done later in life, a myofunctional therapist will be able to coach the child on correct swallowing and breathing. Early recognition is imperative to avoid permanent changes to the jaws.

Checking for mouth breathing should begin from birth. Babies are usually nose breathers, but for a variety of reasons some, such as those with Down Syndrome for example, present with mouth breathing. Simple neurostimulation can tell the tongue to rest in the roof of the mouth. Gently stroke the tongue five times with a plastic spoon and then gently stroke the palate five times. The tongue will immediately move to the palate. Now, gently pinch the lips together to allow for nasal breathing. Be sure nasal breathing is possible before pinching the lips together. To ensure nasal breathing, use xylitol nasal spray several times daily to clean the nose, pull fluid out of swollen tissues and protect the delicate tissue in the nasal passages. Striving for five xylitol exposures each day with gum, mints and other products will reduce the bacteria in the mouth by half and soothe the dry mouth.

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