The average toddler takes between 24 to 40 breaths per minute. Multiply this number by 1440 minutes in a day, and that’s 34,560 to 57,600 breaths each day! Clearly, proper breathing is essential for your child’s overall health and development. Our bodies are designed to breathe through our noses, yet children sometimes have airway and/or tongue issues that make proper breathing difficult. The five major benefits of nasal breathing cannot be understated or ignored for your child’s optimal health.
1. Nasal breathing helps children sleep better.
When a child doesn’t sleep well, their entire lives can be impacted. Poor or inadequate amounts of sleep often lead to behavioral, academic, developmental, and social problems., And when one family member is struggling with such issues, the entire family dynamic can suffer.
If your child snores, grinds their teeth or sleeps with their mouth open, they are not sleeping as deeply or soundly as they could be for a couple of reasons. (To learn other signs of Sleep Disordered Breathing in children, check out our blog: 10 Signs of Sleep Disordered Breathing in Children.)
First, breathing in and out through the nose helps us take fuller, deeper breaths.
More oxygen means better cell growth, repair, and restoration from the day’s stressors.
Second, deeper breaths stimulate parasympathetic nerve receptors in our lower lungs.
Our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) reduces our heart and respiration rates and allows for better digestion. In short, it’s our PNS that signals the brain all is calm and well, so sleep is restful. In contrast, mouth breathing stimulates the upper lung and our sympathetic nerve receptors, putting the mind and body in a fight-or-flight state of arousal. This states means less restful sleep.
2. Nasal breathing promotes healthy jaw, teeth, and palate development in children.
During proper nasal breathing, the tongue rests on the upper roof of the mouth, also known as the palate. The light pressure the tongue applies to the palate in this position is critical for palate orofacial development.
Children who mouth breathe tend to develop longer, narrower face shapes and less prominent bottom jaws. Not only do these facial characteristics mean a less-than-desirable profile, but they often mean misaligned teeth as well. Thus, mouth breathers often require orthodontic treatment, such as expanders and braces, to correct crossbites and crowded teeth.
3. Nasal breathing boosts your child’s immune system.
The link between nasal breathing and health lies with understanding nitric oxide (NO). Our bodies produce NO gas naturally. Nitric oxide plays an important role in overall health because it relaxes the inner muscles of our blood vessels, allowing blood, oxygen, and nutrients to flow to every part of our bodies more efficiently. The increased blood and nutrient flow means a boost to our overall health and immune response. Indeed, low nitric oxide levels are associated with a number of diseases, including high blood pressure and heart disease.
Nitric oxide is created in our parasinus nasal cavities. When your child breathes through their nose, rather than an open mouth, they inhale more nitrous oxide naturally. In short, breathing through their nose will increase your child’s NO levels, thereby boosting their immune system and overall health!
4. Nasal breathing helps with cavity prevention.
Cavity prevention begins with a healthy mouth pH level. Our saliva bathes our teeth in a pH neutral solution to help prevent acids and bacteria from eroding tooth enamel. Mouth breathing, however, leads to a dry mouth. A dry mouth allows food particles, acids, and harmful bacteria to remain on your child’s teeth longer. It also reduces the helpful antibodies found in saliva. In other words, a dry mouth creates the perfect environment for cavities to form.
Nasal breathing, on the other hand, creates a moist mouth with a proper pH level, making it harder for cavities to form.
5. Nasal breathing helps reduce stress and anxiety.
As anyone who has ever meditated or enjoyed yoga will attest, learning to breathe deeply and slowing has a calming effect. Breathing through our noses helps achieve this calm, reducing anxiety. This idea relates back to what we stated earlier about mouth breathing stimulating our PNS.
If your child breathes through their mouth, they trigger their PNS, the part of their nervous system that ramps them up and makes them feel on guard or anxious.
Nasal breathing naturally increases oxygen flow and slows your child’s breathing rate. In turn, the brain receives the signal to calm down. While it won’t cure all causes of anxiety, nasal breathing definitely will help your child feel calmer in stressful and anxious situations.
Your child can be trained to breathe through their nose, even during sleep!
If your child is a mouth breather, don’t despair. Children can learn to breathe properly! The first step is a proper assessment of their airway health.
- An airway assessment includes an exam of your child’s oral health, tongue position, and behavior questionnaire. Such an assessment can be completed by a pediatric dentist trained in Myofunctional therapy and airway health.
- Once your child’s dentist has a full understanding of any orofacial myofunctional disorders leading to your child’s mouth breathing, they can create a treatment plan. Treatment plans may include some or all of the following:
- Orthodontic Evaluation
- Myofunctional Therapy Assessment
- Tethered tissue release (tongue tie / lip tie surgery)
- Lip taping (only under direction and supervision of a healthcare professional)
The health benefits of nasal breathing are too important to ignore. The sooner your child’s airway issue is discovered and addressed, the less invasive treatment will be, and the sooner they will be able to enjoy these five major benefits of nasal breathing!
Both Dr. Rachel and Dr. Laura have additional training in myofunctional therapy and airway health to assess and treat children’s mouth breathing. They are currently accepting new patients under the age of 12. Call our office to request an appointment today.