How to Stop Mouth Breathing with Tongue Tie, Sleep Disordered Breathing & Orthodontic Airway Treatment

mouth breathing problems

Before Mouth Breathing and After

Tongue function, breathing patterns and airway development all determine how the face and jaw structures grow. Breathing is life. Breathing is such a natural part of life, you don’t even think about it. Yet people cannot live longer than 4 minutes without breathing oxygen. Do you know whether you breathe through your nose or mouth? The consequences of mouth breathing can have a big impact on your life? Mouth breathing can harm your immune system, posture, sleep and ability to pay attention.  And, yes, mouth breathing can also adversely affect how your face and jaw structure grows. Mouth breathing can change how your entire body develops, and impact your overall health for the rest of your life. But what causes one to breathe through their mouth instead of their nose? How can we stop mouth breathing and train ourselves to breath through our noses, as we should?

How Does Mouth Breathing Affect the Growth of Jaw and Facial Structure

airway orthodonticsWhen the mouth is left open to breathe, the muscles in the cheeks become tight and apply a backwards force on teeth and bone structure. The cheek muscles puts an external force on the upper and lower jaws, which creates a narrowing effect on the upper and lower jaws and the face.  The lip muscles also exert a reverse pressure and pulls the jaws back. These forces resist outward growth of the face.

Tongue Pressure Causes Anterior Growth of the Face and Jaw Structure

Mouth breathers keep their tongues on the floor of the mouth and have tongue ties that reduce the tongues range of motion. The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body for its size and is meant to naturally rest at the roof of the mouth and in the palate. The tongue is considered the “natural expander”. When the tongue is in the proper palatal position, it puts pressure on the upper jaw bone and stimulates enough forward bone growth for all the teeth to fit.  The growth is achieved when tongue pressure on the maxilla stimulates bone growth. The jaw grows wider and more forward in response to tongue function. When one breathes through their mouth, the tongue stays in the floor of the mouth. But why? Is it staying out of the way of passing air? is it just tied down? Perhaps the palate and upper jaw space are too small for the tongue to fit?

Tongue Tie Diagnosis is linked to Mouth Breathing

tongue tie link to mouth breathing

Tongue Tie & Small Mouth & Crowding

When the tongue is tied too tightly to the lower jaw, it’s movement and range of motion is limited and its shape is deformed. A tied tongue can sometimes not even reach the palate. And if it does reach the palate, the pressure on the palate is very minimal and insufficient to stimulate much of any anterior jaw and facial bone growth.

Tongue shape will also be deformed by a tie. As the tongue moves, the tie can draw the edges of the tongue inward and decrease the extension outward and upward. When the tongue is not able to move properly and put pressure on growing bone, development of the jaws and nasal passageways does not happen. When nasal passageways are not large enough to breathe through, people will resort to breathing through their mouths.

Tongue Tie Treatment can Prevent Mouth Breathing

frenectomy tongue tieDiagnosis and treatment of tongue tie at a young age is critical to airway development, healthy breathing function and overall health. Release of tongue tie is also called “frenectomy.” Once the tongue is “untied” it can be trained to reach the palate and move more forward to properly stimulate forward jaw bone growth. We call tongue training, “tongue therapy.” So what causes small mouths, small nasal passageways and airway obstructions in adults? Is it tongue dysfunction caused by tied tongue? Mouth breathing? What came first, the chicken or the egg? What happens is this:

  1. Tongue tie leads to impaired tongue movement and function
  2. The mouth and nasal passageways do not grow because the tongue is not providing growth stimulus
  3. nasal passageways are too small for adequate breathing
  4. mouth breathing occurs instead of nasal breathing

Nasal Breathing and Tongue Function

It is important to know that the bone on the roof of the mouth is the same bone as the floor of the nose; therefore, if tongue function does not stimulate the proper growth, nasal breathing will suffer. When the tongue is in the proper position, it applies outward pressures that helps the midface grow properly and in a forward direction. Low tongue and mouth -breathing contribute to the development of a mid-face deficiency because the tongue is not pushing on the facial bones. As a result, facial growth gets off track and turns into a downward and backward growth pattern. This negative growth pattern is a known risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, TMJ problems and a bad bite. The vicious poor health and growth cycle just feeds on itself unless intervention occurs while there is still child growth.

Adult Facial Growth Appliances Do Exist

Newer non-surgical treatments such as DNA appliance therapy the AGGA, and the Homeoblock appliance can work for adults. Adult treatment takes longer and are more complicated. The ALF appliance can also be used for adults, but the above appliances grow more bone volume and are better tolerated by adults. 80% of adults with sleep apnea have tmj symptoms. The most common complaint in adults with sleep problems is TMJ and clenching pain/symptoms.

Adult Growth Appliance and TMJ Videos

Why Breathing Through the Mouth is a Problem

  • Mouth breathing patterns are more shallow and there is a tendency towards hyperventilation. Leads to less oxygenation of the lungs and other tissues and less than optimal bodily functions.
  • Dry mouth and a decrease in pH in the mouth. The pH shift leads to more tooth decay and cavities.
  • Nasal breathing stimulates nitric oxide production whereas mouth breathing does not. Nitric oxide increases blood flood for better oxygenation. Nitric oxide also kills bacteria and viruses before they enter the lungs. Finally Nitric oxide also acts as a decongestant to increase air flow through nasal passageways.
  • Air entering the lungs via the mouth is unfiltered, drier and colder. This level or air quality causes inflammation in the tissues of the upper airway. The nasal passageways filters and warms air entering the lungs.
  • causes inflammation in tonsils and adenoids
  • Increases risk of respiratory infections, sinusitis, and ear infections
  • Poor levels of carbon dioxide which causes smooth muscle spasms. Smooth muscle spasms are implicated in gastro intestinal reflux disease, bed wetting in children and asthma.
  • Risk of sleep disordered breathing and poor sleep. This can be anything from UARS to full blown sleep apnea.

Mouth Breathing, Sleep Apnea and TMJ problems.

“Sleep Disordered Breathing” can be better described as “breathing patterns that cause sleep problems”. As one struggles to get enough oxygen into their body while asleep, often the brain causes the body to wake-up somewhat into a lighter sleep. That is, wake up enough to change position, open the airway or to gasp and take a forced breath. Decreased blood oxygen levels also stimulates teeth clenching. Teeth clenching is a reflex to help bring someone up into a lighter sleep. Usually the first thing that happens in lighter sleep, is the tongue will contract and move out of the airway. People with sleep disordered breathing (SDB), have small mouths and airway spaces. In deep sleep the tongue muscle relaxes and the tongue goes where it finds space and gravity pulls it-that is back into the oropharyngeal space and on top of the airway. Activation of the clench reflex, draws one out of deep sleep and clears the airway of the tongue. Usually the vellum of the tongue occludes the upper part of the airway when it relaxes and is uncontracted.

Video Endoscopy of an Airway Collapsing as happens in SDB and Sleep Apnea

Fight or Flight response while Sleeping?

For sleep disordered people, the body is in a state of high alert and fight or flight all night long to make sure breathing does not stop. Breathing is a major effort as the airway collapses or becomes obstructed. Sleep is supposed to be a time of rest, recovery and recharge for all the body’s systems. Instead of having a restful night’s sleep, your body’s heart rate  and pressure increases as oxygenation decreases. You toss and turn, clench your teeth, change body and head positions to open and clear your airway. You gasp, cough and maybe choke. Night time high blood pressure can cause your body to dump fluid volume and there can be a need to get up and urinate during the night.

Adequate Deep Sleep is Essential for Long Term Health

People with SDB do not get enough stage 3 deep sleep because they cannot get enough oxygen as their airway collapses. Only when you get enough deep sleep, do you release important growth and reparative hormones that allow your body to sustain bodily processes day after day and year after year. Poor sleep patterns eventually lead to the most threatening health problems: high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and depression. When breathing and sleep is disturbed, so is the essential repair work our bodies do each night to keep us happy, sharp and healthy. The fastest way to prematurely age and die young is to not get enough stage 3 deep sleep.

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