Publication:(Dental Dialogue :“Breathing and Your Child’s Teeth” by Dr. Gary DiSanto-Rose)

Does your child snore at night? Or, is he or she constantly breathing with the mouth open? Now, look at your child’s teeth. In a closed position, do the middle of the top teeth not line up with the middle of the lower teeth? Are any of the lower teeth positioned outside of the upper teeth (crossbites)?

If your child suffers from chronic allergies and has enlarged adenoids and tonsils, he or she could become a mouth breather. The problem with chronic mouth breathers is that they utilize many muscles not normally used during normal respiration which can place atypical tension on the facial bones resulting in facial disharmony and malocclusions (bad bites ). For example, when the mouth is open, the cheek muscles on each side are lengthened ,thus exerting an inward pressure on the upper jaw. Also, when the mouth is constantly held open to breath, the tongue is forced to assume a lower position in the mouth and thus is no longer able to apply a balancing outward force on the upper jaw. This results in a constriction or narrowing of the upper jaw. As the upper jaw constricts, the floor of the nose can become elevated which can lead to further difficulty in breathing through one’s nose.

The upper lip muscles fail to develop properly in mouth breathers because the lips seldom come together. With the lack of proper lip support, the upper teeth tend to protrude and a poor swallowing habit and tongue thrust often develop. This imbalance of muscle forces on the facial bones of chronic mouth breathers can result in the following problems:*

  1. Long, narrow face.

  2. Constricted or narrow upper jaw.

  3. Crowded teeth.

  4. Poor tongue posture.

  5. Neck posture forward and the head tipped back.

  6. TMJ (jaw joint) problems.

  7. Crossbites and anterior open bites (front teeth don’t come together).

  8. Weak and short upper lip.

Therefore, the manner in which your child breathes can have a significant impact on the growth and development of your child’s mouth , teeth, facial appearance and even their self esteem. Early diagnosis along with conferring with your dentist, pediatrician, allergist, or otolaryngologist to institute the appropriate medical and interceptive orthodontic management are the best means of reducing respiratory problems which will result in fewer malocclusions and healthier, happier children.

Dr. Gary DiSanto-Rose has a general dental practice devoted to family dentistry, orthodontics, and aesthetic dentistry. He is a Fellow of the International Association for Orthodontics and the Academy of General Dentistry. His office is at 32 S. Market St. Johnstown, N.Y. 12095. Tel.: 518-762-7033.

 *Linder-Aronson, S., Woodside D. “Excess Face Height Malocclusion”; Quintessence Publishing Co., 2000.