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Baby Mouth Breathing - Whilst Cute - Can Have Concerning Outcomes

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Dr Teresa Li
February 2, 2024

A baby sleeping blissfully is always an endearing and rewarding sight - especially to new parents who’ve usually worked very hard to get them to such a peaceful state. Sleeping allows children to rest, grow and develop, and gives you a break too (albeit a very brief one). ‘Sleep while the baby sleeps - HA!’ 

We digress. 

In this article, we discuss what you should do if you notice your baby ‘mouth breathing’, because whilst it looks sweet and oh-so-adorable, it might be indicative of nasal congestion, and can lead to dental, speech, facial structure and sleep problems as they grow.

What you need to know about mouth breathing in children

Babies aren’t developmentally able to breathe through their mouths until after 12 weeks – as by design – the baby needs to be able to breathe and feed simultaneously and effectively, during this important ‘fourth trimester’ period.

Little girl smiling prior to dental check-up at TL Dental.
Children who breathe and/or sleep with their mouth open will typically experience the same poor oral health consequences as adults - all due to lack of saliva.

But I’ve got a mouth breathing baby - how did this happen?

If you notice your baby (or child) mouth breathing, this could be due to a number of reasons, which should be explored by your paediatrician or GP.

These reasons might include:

  • The baby or child adapting to the symptoms of a cold - such as having a ‘stuffy nose’, or mucus blocking the nasal passage. Even once resolved, mouth breathing can continue due to habit
  • Experiencing a deviated septum - caused by birth trauma, thus having no other option but to breathe through their mouth
  • Tongue-tie can see the tongue sit in a development-compromising position in the mouth and in the septum, also affecting nasal breathing
  • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids - this can lead to sleep apnea, which sees mouth breathing in children causing restless sleep, snoring and other sleep disturbances.

What happens to my child’s teeth if they sleep with their mouth open?

Children who breathe and/or sleep with their mouth open will typically experience the same poor oral health consequences as adults - all due to lack of saliva.

Mouth breathing in kids presents (detected during check-ups) as:

  • Dry mouth and lips
  • Bad breath
  • Crooked teeth, a misaligned bite, and/or a long facial structure (due to the positioning of the tongue)
  • Stained teeth due to demineralisation

Concerned about how your child’s mouth breathing might affect their teeth?

Book your appointment online now so we can assess your concerns or download Tiny Teeth Matter Guide for treatments and costs.

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Saliva the ‘superhero’

Saliva is one of the body’s naturally occuring ‘heroes’ when it comes to dental health, neutralising and washing away harmful bacteria from your teeth and mouth. Without it - due to open mouth breathing - bacteria grows in your child’s mouth, teeth are ‘eaten’ (tooth decay), and tooth enamel is eroded (demineralisation).

Thus, nasal breathing > mouth breathing - thanks to ‘Saliva the superhero’ (just in case you need to explain the idea of ‘closing mouths’ to your kids!)

Young boy plays with toys with mouth open.
If you or your dentist have observed your child’s mouth breathing, the first step is to reach out to your paediatrician or GP and explain your concerns.

Breathing, sleep and behaviour - it’s all linked

Mouth breathing can also negatively affect your child’s sleep, so if you feel you have a ‘bad sleeper’ - check how they’re breathing when they’re sleeping. Mouth breathing can lead to disordered sleeping, including sleep apnea, which can have your child oxygen deprived, waking up already tired, which in turn can affect their energy, mood and behaviour. A tired child is typically not a happy child.

Also - mouth breathing children will inevitably inhale dust, bugs, and pollen when they sleep and throughout the day. Whereas nasal breathing and nostril hairs prevent and filter out those objects we don’t want inside our bodies, whilst also delivering our lungs nitric oxide - which helps to push oxygen around the body quicker.

How to stop your baby or child predominately breathing from their mouth

If your baby or child does have nasal congestion due to a recent cold and has only just started breathing through their mouth to manage it - a room humidifier and/or saline drops as prescribed by your trusted healthcare provider, will help clear the mucus and can subsequently encourage them back to nasal breathing. 

If your child’s mouth breathing has been happening for a while - as observed by you - or identified by your dentist - the first step is to reach out to your paediatrician or trusted GP and explain your concerns. They will then run tests to properly diagnose mouth breathing, and investigate if the underlying cause is more than just ‘habit’. 

Children sleeping + nasal breathing = happy teeth, development and behaviour

In conclusion, if you or your dentist identifies signs or symptoms that your child might be mouth breathing throughout the day or even just at night, please speak with your GP. 

Stopping mouth breathing when you notice it is always better than dealing with its consequences.

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