Most parents don’t think about their child’s airway development, but almost every parent sees the impact that airway development has on their child. If your child has problems like bedwetting, restless sleep, snoring, and posture problems, you’re probably seeing the impact of an underdeveloped airway. 

Poor airway development, caused or exacerbated by intermittent airway blockage, leads to a number of problems in the jaws and teeth of children, and the impacts can extend throughout the body. Fortunately, we can correct these problems to improve the development of your child. 

The Effects of Mouth Breathing

One of the major effects of poor airway development is mouth breathing. Physiologically, the human system works best with nasal breathing. It’s how the system has evolved to work. But when the nasal passages are blocked, usually temporarily due to allergies or illness, children start to develop the habit of mouth breathing, which creates a self-perpetuating cycle that impairs development.

Mouth breathing impacts the normal position of the tongue. During nasal breathing, the tongue rests at the top of the mouth, filling the upper arch of teeth and pushing out on them. This pressure helps the jaw grow outward, just as pressure from the cheeks keeps both upper and lower jaws from growing outward too much. But when you breathe through your mouth, the tongue must rest on the lower jaw, either on top of the teeth or within the lower arch of teeth.
Without pressure from the tongue, the upper jaw doesn’t fully develop, leading to a flat or even “dished in” midface. Meanwhile, the position of the tongue in the lower jaw can either cause the lower teeth to tip inward, hampering the development of the lower jaw, or push forward and outward, leading to a narrow, cramped jaw. In either case, there is not enough room for the lower teeth, which can become crowded and rotated.

The long-term effects of this lack of development are clear. In addition to crooked teeth, people can have an unattractive profile, with either a dished in midface or a receding chin. They may also suffer functional problems in their jaw, including temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD). They may also experience lifelong problems breathing while they sleep, including snoring and sleep apnea.

Countering the Effects of Mouth Breathing

What can we do about these negative impacts of mouth breathing? Fortunately, the body retains its ability to develop in response to the proper stimuli, even for older children and adults. So, while it’s better to get treatment early, it’s never too late to try to fix these problems.

One part of the solution is a growth appliance. This is a type of orthodontics that isn’t just focused on straightening teeth (though it helps with that), but more on encouraging development of the jaw. These appliances, which might be fixed or removable, replicate the pressure that should have been given by the tongue during development. Children may use this appliance for 6-12 months and adults may need 18-24 months to achieve their desired results.

Next, myofunctional therapy helps you develop healthy habits that help you maintain proper tongue position. This includes learning how to rest your tongue in the proper position, improving your posture, learning to breathe through your nose, and learning how to swallow properly. These are the habits that will help your jaw maintain its size, shape, and position. For children, this is especially helpful in promoting future growth.

Learn More about Facial Development in Burke, VA

If you think that you or your child are suffering from the effects of an underdeveloped airway, we can help. Neuromuscular dentist Dr. Pamela Marzban works with a certified Orofacial Myofunctional Therapist (OMT) to provide the proper combination of appliances and therapy to achieve functional and developmental goals for you or your child.
Please call 703-323-8200 today for an appointment at her office in Burke, VA.