Why the nose is best.
Breathing keeps our minds and bodies alive, but few people realise that nose breathing is far more beneficial to our overall health than mouth breathing.
Our nostrils and sinuses filter the air that enters our lungs. The sinuses produce small amounts of antibacterial nitric oxide. Air inhaled through the mouth completely bypasses this process. At this point some of you may be wondering why a dentist is writing an article about breathing. What relationship does breathing have to the mouth? Chronic mouth breathers can in fact often be identified by a dentist because of the wear on their teeth, the shape and size of their palate and in extreme cases the shape of their face and dark bluish circles under their eyes.
The results of a recent study in New Zealand showed that the mouth of a mouth breather is more acidic than that of a nose breather, making them more susceptible to dental decay. The researchers found that sleeping with your mouth open can make it as acidic as if you have just drunk a glass of orange juice.
Mouth breathing is usually not a choice but a survival instinct, because the nasal passage is blocked. Some causes of blockage are enlarged adenoids, tonsils and nasal turbinates, allergies, obesity, sleep apnoea and a deviated nasal septum.
There are volumes that could be written about the medical problems associated with mouth breathing so for this article I will focus on how chronic mouth breathing can affect the growth and development of children.
If your child snores and has always snored, chances are they are not as healthy or alert as they could be. Snoring is a symptom of an obstructed nasal airway. Children who snore heavily often have sleep apnoea, which means their bodies and brains are chronically deprived of oxygen.
In my practice, when I see a child with a very narrow palate (upper jaw) the first question I ask the parent is if their child snores. The child may also have bluish circles under their eyes and an elongated face shape. Further questions would be about whether or not the child eats and sleeps well, if they have problems with bedwetting, and what their concentration is like. A child with enlarged adenoids or tonsils will often have a history of poor sleeping and eating. In many cases their concentration and behaviour is so poor that they might have been mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD. Parents are often at their wits end because they have no idea what they have done wrong. In cases where the adenoids or tonsils are grossly enlarged, surgical intervention from an ear, nose and throat surgeon is often needed. In milder cases nutritional support and dietary modification may help.
Some mouth breathers may not have any of the symptoms described above but most of them will have a very narrow palate. This means that their adult teeth will be very crowded when they come through and often the jaw won’t be big enough to accommodate all of them. Historical treatment of crowded mouths was to extract teeth. These days dentists and orthodontist will often expand a crowded jaw, to enlarge it enough to fit all the teeth. Ideally this treatment is done when a child is between the ages of 8 and 10 years old and their upper jaw is growing. The treatment is quite simple and involves the use of an expansion appliance fixed in the palate. The expander contains a screw that is turned daily and helps to push apart the two bones that form the palate. Over time bone fills the space and a bigger jaw is created. The benefits of palatal expansion are, negating the need for extraction of permanent adult teeth in most cases, and sometimes braces, but also the creation of a wider more attractive smile and fuller face. Expansion of the palate also enlarges the sinuses which help the child breathe more easily through the nose. Studies have shown that expansion can even reduce nocturnal bedwetting because of hormonal changes that occur when the palate is enlarged.
Our breath can hold the key to helping us deal with many physical and emotional stresses, make sure yours (and your children’s) is inhaled through the nose!!