National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM) began as a one-day event in Cleveland, Ohio, on February 3, 1941. The American Dental Association held the first national observance of Children’s Dental Health Day on February 8, 1949. The single-day observance became a week-long event in 1955. In 1981, the program was extended to a month-long observance every February known today as National Children’s Dental Health Month. 

To raise awareness about the importance of oral health. NCDHM messages and materials have reached millions of people in communities across the country.

Developing good habits at an early age and scheduling regular dental visits helps children to get a good start on a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.

We now know dental health is about so much more than just brushing and flossing and it starts with the parents’ habits and beliefs. 

Dental care remains the most frequently unmet health need for children.

Baby teeth are vulnerable to decay as soon as they erupt. We have been told to be sure to brush your child’s teeth for two minutes two times a day and floss as soon as the teeth start touching. The most important thing is with proper oral hygiene, tooth decay can be prevented and even reversed. 

But we now know we need to look at so much more pH, tongue posture, proper form, and function, airway, breathing, feeding, chewing, and swallowing.

I know parents of children with special needs face a unique challenge in that their children are at an even higher risk of developing oral health conditions. According to a study, 81 percent of children with special health care needs require some kind of preventive dental care.

I started out 20 years ago to raise awareness in the fight against childhood tooth decay, which is the most preventable chronic infectious disease among children – more common than asthma and childhood obesity. In fact, about half of children in the U.S. are affected by tooth decay by the time they enter school.

When I worked for mobile dentists I saw how millions of school hours are lost each year due to dental problems firsthand. 

What I did not know was where my passion to fight tooth decay and change would lead me.  What I quickly learned is that tooth decay and dental disease have more to do with proper airways and breathing than we knew.

Breathing is the most important thing that we do. We can live three weeks without food, days without water or sleep but only a few minutes without oxygen. Even though we know the importance of nasal breathing it’s not emphasized when talking about being healthy.

Mouth Breathing is a hidden epidemic, research shows 50% of children breathe through their mouths. We don’t even give it a thought if our kids have their lips separated or mouths open. It is really important for parents to start noticing the way their children breathe. Form follows function so it will have an impact on how their jaw and face grow and develops.

Tongue up, lips sealed nasal breathing and correct swallowing promote optimal facial balance and muscle tone. Chronic mouth breathing is a myofunctional disorder. It is connected to crooked teeth, bedwetting, picky eating, chewing, swallowing,  speech,  sleep, and behavior issues.

Parents are not taught to connect the dots and identify mouth breathing as a root cause of other issues their child may be exhibiting. What happens is the above symptoms are treated individually not as a whole.

Many parents are shocked to find out this is connected to mouth breathing or they do not believe it to be true.  Babies are born nasal breathers, we cannot breathe through our mouth until the age of 3 months. Our nose warms filters, humidifies the air we breathe, and gives us nitric oxide co2 exchange. 

Nitric oxide production is essential for overall health because it allows blood, nutrients, and oxygen to travel to every part of your body effectively and efficiently.

We are lucky we can breathe through our mouth if our nose is stuffed up.  Just like we do not eat through our noses we should not breathe through our mouths if we want to live a healthy life and be free from disease.

I struggled as a mom to find answers with traditional health care. Heck, I struggled to find answers just having a baby with traditional health care after having 8 miscarriages.

My experience and journey took me on a path into eastern medicine for alternative methods and looking for the root cause rather than accepting the answer are no and this is normal.

I followed my gut which told me there had to be a solution. I just wish it did not take me over 10 years to find it. My hope is that this is the path God put me on so I could learn to help others with the knowledge I gained helping myself. 

I get to shorten your journey and save you the time, pain, and expense of learning the hard way.

Kids don’t come with a handbook and if they did we would not be able to lift the book to read it. So we break things down into smaller parts and treat signs, symptoms, and body parts separately. The riches are in the niches so they say.

We need to put the whole picture back together and understand our body works as a whole unit. One system affects the others. With everything I have experienced and seen with others, I truly believe health starts with our mouth and our nose. 

Think about it…our lives begin and end with a breath! So wouldn’t it make sense that when we are looking at our health we start with breathing? Being a dental hygienist and now myofunctional therapist I see the direct correlation mouth breathing has not only on the oral cavity but the rest of our body.

I help people retain the muscles of their face and tongue. I see how quickly it can make a difference. I also see how it can take more than one provider to get everything working together again if we have let it get too far out of control because we did not address the issue or multiple issues soon enough.  

Mouth breathing dries out the mouth which reduces the saliva which we talked about last month and contributes to cavities. 

Mouth breathing is when people can’t breathe through their nose so they take in air through their mouths. Mouth breathing can cause gut and sleep disorders that affect daily life.

Mouth breathing is when people take in air through their mouths and not their noses. Mouth breathing may be why some people wake up with dry mouths, sore throats,s and drool on their pillows.

But mouth breathing causes more problems than soggy pillows and dry mouths. Mouth breathing can cause sleep disorders and can also change the structure of people’s faces. Most people develop mouth breathing as very young children, potentially setting the stage for lifelong problems.

Healthcare providers estimate between 10% and 25% of children have mouth breathing.

What causes mouth breathing?

Mouth breathing happens when people can’t breathe through their noses. Some conditions that affect nasal breathing include:

  • Enlarged tonsils and /or adenoids: Adenoids are glands that look like small lumps of tissue located above the roof of your mouth and behind your nose. Tonsils and Adenoids protect young children from bacteria and viruses. Sometimes, adenoids are swollen or infected, blocking children’s airways. 
  • Nasal congestion: If you have allergies colds or chronic sinusitis, you may have a persistent stuffy nose that keeps you from breathing through your nose.
  • Deviated Septum  Your septum is cartilage and bone that divides the inside of your nose into two sides. If your septum leans to one side, it can block your airway.

What tests do healthcare providers do to diagnose mouth breathing?

Some tests healthcare providers may use include:

  • Lip seal test: This test evaluates whether you can breathe with your mouth closed. Hold your lips together and time yourself for 3 minutes without opening your mouth.
  • Mirror test: Hold a mirror under your nose. Do you have clouding or condensation on the mirror? If yes, that indicates you’re breathing through your nose.
  • Water test: This test checks your ability to hold water in your mouth. Can you hold it and breathe? Holding the water can you smile and swallow without your lips or does the water run out?

You can’t keep children from breathing through their mouths. But you can help your child so they don’t make mouth breathing a harmful habit.  

Mouth breathing is a habit people develop when they can’t breathe through their noses. Mouth breathing may solve the immediate and essential problem of getting enough air. But mouth breathing can become a hard-to-break habit that can cause sleep disorders, dental problems, and facial structure differences. Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you or your child is developing mouth breathing.

I am hoping you are starting to see just how much the mouth and nose are connected to our overall health. Now that we know what we know we can change our habits and the way we look at how and what we teach our kids. If you look for and correct airway issues early enough, and teach our kids how to control their breathing we are setting your children up for a lifetime of positive oral health habits. 

Next week I interview Dr. Shereen Lim and we discuss her book Breath Sleep Thrive. I highly recommend you get a copy. Her book helps to connect the dot and help you identify the important milestones for healthy airway development and breathing, which are the real red flags, and what can be done to help your child not just survive but thrive.