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Mouth Breathing

A mother watches her seven year old daughter sitting and coloring. While the girl concentrates on the shape of each petal, the mother notices something: she can see that her daughter’s lips are parted. She looks over at her son, and notices his lips are closed.
Cute characteristic? Or serious sleep issue?

Most people don’t realize that mouth breathing is a complex health concern. As a myofunctional therapist, I hear stories like this all the time.

If your child is mouth breathing, s/he can learn to change the habit. That’s where I come in. It’s my job to help patients learn how to change the habit and breathe properly. Learning how to breathe through the nose instead of the mouth prevents my pediatric patients from a slew of serious health issues in adulthood, including sleep apnea, speech impediments, and improper facial growth.


mouth breathing quick testFor some people, an open mouth is simply a habit — their mouth rests in an open position when they’re not focused on keeping it closed. For other people, the mouth is open and used for breathing. We call this either “open mouth resting posture” or simply “open mouth.”

The natural position for healthy breathing is always with a closed mouth, inhaling and exhaling through the nose.

Some adults are very aware of their open mouth habit, while others have never noticed it until they meet me. Most of the time, my adult patients are self-conscious about their open mouth habit, and can’t understand why it’s so challenging for them to keep their lips together when they aren’t speaking or eating.

Does Mouth Breathing Actually Matter That Much?

While having an open mouth may seem like a silly thing to be concerned about, and even a simple problem to fix, it’s actually neither.

The Serious Health Effects of Mouth Breathing

When patients are referred to my office, it’s usually by their orthodontist. However, I also work with Ear, Nose, and Throat doctors (ENTs), pediatric dentists, general dentists, chiropractors, speech pathologists, allergists, and many other specialists. No matter who refers a patient or why, the first thing I screen for in every patient is an open mouth.

Megan’s Story: Seeing a Myofunctional Therapist for the First Time

When Megan came to my office for an evaluation, I asked her mother if she had allergies or anything else that could affect her breathing. I knew that if Megan had a chronically stuffy or blocked up nose, then she would have no other choice but to breathe through her mouth. It turns out that Megan did have allergies – she was allergic to cats and certain types of pollen, so this was a great place for us to start with her treatment.

After determining the cause of Megan’s open mouth, the next step was to help her fix it. By coordinating treatment with an allergist and her pediatrician, I was able to help Megan get relief from her allergy symptoms. Once she was able to breathe easily through her nose, I taught her exercises to retrain the muscles of her tongue and mouth, so that she could naturally rest her lips in a closed position. At the same time, it was important for me to teach Megan how to use her nose. After seven years of only breathing through her mouth, she needed practice using her nasal passageways.

It’s been two years since I worked with her, and Megan is now a healthy happy nine year old girl. She breathes through her nose, and her mouth is always closed at rest. She may need braces in the future, but if she does, it will be a simple and easy process. She’ll grow into an adult with healthy facial and airway development, optimal jaw size, and a beautiful, wide smile and straight teeth.

What Causes an Open Mouth or Mouth Breathing Habit?

It can be difficult to determine the root cause of an open mouth or mouth breathing habit. However, most people tend to have one or more of these three contributing factors:

What Parents Can Do to Prevent Mouth Breathing

Now that you are aware of these symptoms, you can look for them in yourself or your child.  You can get started by doing the following:

  1. Monitor yourself or your child for mouth breathing and/or an open mouth resting posture. How often does it occur during the day?
  2. Determine if you have any of the airway or breathing issues I mentioned above, or if you’ve had them in the past.
  3. Consider talking to a doctor who specializes in breathing and sleep. It may be time to have a sleep study done for you or your child. There are two types—at home, and in clinic. Your doctor can help you determine the best option for you, and how to get started.
  4. Have an evaluation with a myofunctional therapist. We screen our patients for all of these symptoms, as well as many others. A myofunctional therapist will often know other specialists, and will be able to point you in the right direction at the very least.