Snoring and Mouth Breathing

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Believe it or not, there is a profound connection between the teeth and the airway.  A person’s dentition, the spacing of the teeth and shape of the jaw, can reveal a lot about a person’s airways, including whether or not they will snore.  As we know, having an open upper airway and being able to breathe through the nose is the most efficient means of obtaining oxygen.  For people who cannot breathe through the nose, known as mouth breathers, there are severe implications, including snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.

Mouth breathing occurs when a person cannot breath comfortably through the nose, therefore must keep their mouth open to get enough air.  Chronic mouth breathing can have an effect on the development of the spacing of the teeth, shape of the jaw and even shape of the face.  If this problem goes untreated in the adolescent years, it can lead to health risks as an adult, including obstructive sleep apnea.

When a person only breathes through their mouth, the posture of the head and mouth will shift forward, causing an “open bite,” when the front teeth do not come together when the back ones are together, and poor development of the roof of the mouth, which in turn leads to poor alignment of the teeth.  Mouth breathing may also cause obstructive sleep apnea.  Since the nasal airway is blocked, the person must sleep with their mouth open to get air.  When the mouth is left open, the tongue is free to slide back, blocking the airway.  When this occurs, it is considered obstructive sleep apnea.

This blockage can completely halt the breathing up to 100 times per hour over the course of one night.  Obstructive sleep apnea can lead to heart disease, diabetes and sexual dysfunction.  It is a serious condition and a primary concern when dentists or orthodontists identify a person as a mouth breather.  It is important for someone who has been told that they are a mouth breather to get professional help.  There are several ways to treat mouth breathing and the developmental problems connected to it.

One of the primary developments problems is the narrow “V” shaped palate.  This is what causes the teeth to be poorly aligned, causing the open bite and misplacement of the tongue.  To correct this, a dentist or orthodontist will most likely use “palatal expansion.”  This may be surgically assisted or if the problem is caught while the person is still growing, it can be accomplished with braces or a retainer.  Making the palate wider makes more room for the teeth, then for treatment to straighten them.  Since the upper palate and the nose are connected, palatal expansion may help to open the nasal airway as well.

If you are concerned that you or a family member is a mouth breather, there are certain signs and symptoms that can be recognized.  The primary symptom is that the mouth is open most of the time.  Abnormal tongue position and function can also be a symptom of chronic airway blockage.  The most notable symptom is snoring.  Mouth breathing can be the cause of many patients’ sleep apnea and related health issues.

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