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Checkup: Ill-Effects of Mouth Breathing

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Air date: May 30, 2010

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Check Up Men's & Women's Health
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Our society takes a dim view of mouth-breathing. It's pretty much the clip-on tie of breathing methods: It gets the job done, but comes off as less sophisticated. Full disclosure: I'm a, ahem, long-time mouth-breather myself.

However, a recent article in the journal General Dentistry discussed a number of serious implications of mouth breathing that most people, it's safe to say, have never realized.

Here's the author, Yosh (rhymes with Josh) Jefferson, a New Jersey dentist who specializes in functional orthodontics:

"There's a lot of studies that show that when individuals breathe through their mouth, it changes their muscle structure and function. The mouth narrows and the palate gets very high, teeth get crooked, and some of these individuals, if they're severe mouth breathers and it's left untreated, can develop what we call "long-face syndrome."

According to Dr. Jefferson, inhaling through your nose delivers oxygen to your body more efficiently. Mouth-breathing kids tend to sleep poorly, which can hamper their growth. They may have trouble at school, too. So start checking your kids for the warning signs of mouth-breathing at the age of 5 or so, he suggests.

"You should be looking out for narrow mouth, high, roof of the mouth, crooked teeth, and gummy smiles. Facially, you should be looking for long, narrow faces, and dark circles under the eyes. These children tend to be small, slender to skinny, and short. I also look in the back of the throat to see if the tonsils are swollen."

Orthodontic appliances can treat facial problems due to mouth breathing. If necessary, surgically removing the child's adenoids and tonsils can support the more-preferred nose breathing method.

"If you can address that early enough, I think you'll allow them to benefit greatly, and allow their face to grow normally, and sleep better, and do better in school. It's a life-changing thing that you can do for your child."

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