‘Children should be seen and not heard’. Thankfully we are a few generations removed from this style of parenting, however, there are several good reasons why children should close their mouths, and breathe only through the nose.
1. Reduce coughs, colds and asthma
The nasal cavity is lined with mucous membranes that help trap pathogenic microorganisms including bacteria, viruses and fungi before they head south to the throat and lungs. In addition, embedded in the mucous membranes are immune cells that also serve to inactivate the bugs that cause tonsillitis, laryngitis, coughs and colds.
Nose breathing is also important for children who suffer from asthma. Breathing through the nose rather than the mouth serves to warm and moisten the air before it reaches the lungs. Cold, dry air is a known trigger for asthma.
2. A nicer smile (and richer parents)
Mouth breathing usually means the tongue rests on the bottom of the mouth. For its size, the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body. During childhood, as the facial bones are growing, the tongue helps to keep teeth aligned. When the tongue is resting on the roof of the mouth - its correct position - the hard palate will be wide enough to allow room for all teeth. If the tongue drops down without the gentle pressure provided by the tongue, the upper palate will narrow, causing teeth to become crowded and misaligned. Hello orthodontist, bye bye money.
3. Better sleep, better grades
Mouth breathing and low IQ has been fodder for jokes for years. Children who mouth breathe are more likely to suffer from sleep disordered breathing, defined as either snoring or sleep apnoea (periods of not breathing during sleep) or both. Sleep disordered breathing is associated with a host of symptoms including anxiety, depression, inattention, hyperactivity and aggressiveness which all have an impact on a child's performance at school.
Encourage your little one to lie on their side, rather than back, during sleep, and during the night, if their mouth is open, gently close by coaxing chin upwards.
4. Breathe easy and relax
Breathing through the nose activates the diaphragm, our major breathing muscle, the diaphragm divides the chest from the abdomen. Diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes referred to as belly breathing, helps stimulate the vagus nerve which helps regulate many body systems, including the parasympathetic or relaxing nervous system.
For children who are sensitive little souls, easily buffeted by life's ups and downs, learning to belly breathe is a valuable tool. Best learnt lying down on the floor or bed, ask your child to breathe in through the nose and imagine their belly is a balloon that inflates with the inhale breath, and deflates with the exhale breath like air leaking out of the balloon, belly button dropping towards the spine. Practice often and peace is theirs!
5. Tooth decay and gum disease
Regular visits to the dentist, alongside daily brushing and flossing is 101 in dental health. However, the way your child breathes, mouth vs nose, is also fundamental to healthy teeth and gums.
Mouth breathing causes the mouth to be drier, with less saliva coating the gums and teeth. Saliva helps keep the pH in the mouth at the ideal level of 6.6. Low pH is associated with tooth decay and gum disease. Studies have shown that mouth breathing can reduce oral pH to 3.6, a level where minerals including calcium can be leached from the teeth.
We were born to breathe with our nose. If your child is mouth breathing, try to encourage them to only breathe through the nose, using their mouth only for eating, talking and laughing.
See here if your child struggles to nose breathe