Mouth Breathing, Tongue Position, and Improper Swallow
The need to take our next breath is the strongest driving factor in our body. Our body will do whatever it takes to make sure that we get the next breath. We are specifically designed to breathe through our nose. The nose filters and humidifies air before it enters our lungs.
Mouth breathing is an abnormal breathing pattern in which the mouth always remains open, passing air directly to the lungs. It is related to alterations in the muscular function of the tongue and face. Mouth breathing can cause poor growth patterns, more trips to the doctor for sickness, TMJ problems, and in extreme cases, even sleep apnea and sleep disordered breathing (SDB).
The problem with mouth breathing even beyond these health concerns is that it is nearly impossible to have the tongue in the roof of the mouth while mouth breathing. This prevents the tongue from driving the growth of the face in the way it is designed to which then results in narrow upper arches.
The proper resting tongue position is in the roof of the mouth. When placed here, the tongue applies pressure to the palate to form the upper dental arch and nasal cavity. When the tongue isn’t in the roof of the mouth, it often falls down and back into the airway. This restricts the amount of airflow, which can lead to many problems especially during sleep. Tongue ties and low tongue tone are often times the underlying causes for improper tongue position.
The tongue is attached to the floor of the mouth with a frenulum. When the frenulum attachment prevents the tongue from reaching the roof of the mouth, it is considered a tongue tie. A common reason kids have unfavorable growth is because they are tongue tied. When the tongue is tied and can’t properly get to the roof of the mouth, the other muscles of the face will pull the face in and back causing improper growth. Tongue ties can easily be released to allow the tongue to function properly and to develop the face.
Improper swallowing can result in tongue thrusting, speech problems and other muscular imbalances that may produce enough pressure to move teeth out of normal positions and change the structure of the face. If you see the lips purse, the skin on the chin wrinkle up, and/or the head bob forward during swallowing, there is a tongue thrust underneath.
Various orthodontic treatments are available to help correct these parafunctional habits — and the sooner they’re taken care of, the less damage they may cause. But these potential problems aren’t always easy to recognize. That’s one more reason why you should bring your child in for an early screening.