Should dental teams be asking patients about mouth breathing? – It holds dangers for both oral health and general health
We have all done it at different times and for different reasons – but mouth breathing for long periods of time can indicate a future health problem.
The habit of mouth breathing can develop in children after they have been ill, with viral infections or allergies for example. Or it can be the result of something more permanent, like enlarged adenoids or a deviated septum.
When we use our noses to breathe, the air is warmed and humidified by the nasal pathways, before it arrives in our lungs. If we use our mouths to breathe – colder, dryer air passes through the mouth, without being warmed by the nose. This can result in a dry mouth, which reduces the beneficial effects of saliva and encourages the growth of plaque biofilm.
Not surprisingly, there is a clear connection between mouth breathing and gingivitis – and for this reason, the dental team should consider questioning patients about their breathing habits. Halitosis is also a likely consequence – and one that could more easily get the attention of your patients.
Mouth breathing in children can also reduce the growth in the upper jaw and result in dental malocclusion and the need for orthodontic treatment. Children who mouth breath may also have more trouble with dental braces and subsequent orthodontic work may be more complicated. And a child’s face can even develop differently: flatter and longer facial features, less prominent cheekbones, a smaller or narrower palate. They may also struggle with certain speech sounds or have speech impediments.
Many parents bring their children to the dental practice because they’re concerned about their crooked teeth. We now know this could be a result and not the cause of a deeper rooted problem. Most mouth breathing children can learn to change their behaviour, especially at an early age, and dentists can help by looking out for the symptoms when children come in for a check-up, as well as asking questions to their parents about sleeping habits and behaviour.
So, how proactive should the dental team be, regarding the wider health dangers of mouth breathing?
When adults and children breathe mostly through their mouths during the day, the chances are that they will also be breathing through their mouths at night. Mouth breathing at night is linked to insomnia and sleep apnoea because of altered levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood stream. In adults, prolonged sleep apnoea can result in chronic fatigue and even cardiac damage. Some doctors have associated mouth breathing in children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). So, the stakes can be high for patients – and this is why the dental team should ask routine questions about mouth breathing.
As in many other cases, the state of oral health is both an indication and a prediction of health in the whole body. The dental team can render a great service to patients, young and old, by being alert and inquisitive about mouth breathing.
Do you see many patients in your practice who you suspect are mouth breathers? Do you ask questions about possible associated symptoms, such as insomnia, fatigue or concentration problems? Have you ever recommended a patient see their doctor about their mouth breathing and its consequences?
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