Mouth breathing in toddlers can be quite common and is usually nothing to worry about. However, if your toddler’s mouth breathing is accompanied by other symptoms such as snoring or difficulty feeding, it could be a sign of a more serious condition.
Are you concerned about your toddler’s mouth breathing?
If so, you are not alone.
Many parents are worried about whether they should allow their children to breathe through their mouths or take steps to correct the condition.
In this article, we will explain the causes of toddler mouth breathing and offer some tips on how to stop it. Let’s dive in!
What is Mouth Breathing?
Mouth breathing occurs when air is taken through the mouth instead of the nose. This can lead to drooling during sleep, causing a dry mouth upon waking.
Additionally, mouth breathing has been linked with sleep apnea in children.
This condition begins in childhood, potentially setting the stage for long-term problems. For those reasons, stopping mouth breathing is important to prevent other health-related issues.
Some children might only partially breathe through their mouths. That practice is still considered mouth breathing. Therefore, you should rectify this issue whether the child has the mouth partially or completely open at night.
What is Nasal Breathing?
Nasal breathing, on the other hand, is when air enters and exits through the nose. This is considered to be normal breathing.
During nasal breathing, air is warmed and humidified by the nose. This is beneficial because it prevents the throat and airways from drying out.
Nasal breathing also helps to filter out pollutants and bacteria before they reach the lungs.
Is Mouth Breathing in Children Bad?
Most of the time, mouth breathing in toddlers is a result of a cold or allergies. In those cases, it is not harmful and will resolve itself once the child recovers from the illness.
However, if mouth breathing persists, it can cause some serious health problems. These include:
- Sleep apnea
- Poor dental health
- Developmental delays
- Speech impairments
These are only a few of the potential problems that can arise from mouth breathing in toddlers. If you are concerned about your child’s health, you should take steps to correct the problem.
Mouth breathing syndrome (MBS) has been identified as a clinical condition in school-age children. MBS is associated with facial deformities and speech organ disorders.
This disorder may progress to cardiorespiratory, sleep disorder, and endocrine diseases. MBS could lead to performance and behavioral issues in these children.
Some toddlers can develop a mouth-breathing face. With that, the child often has a receding jaw or chin line. Recent studies show that children who mouth breathe can develop behavioral problems similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
How to Identify Mouth Breathing in Children
In most cases, the child will not know they are breathing through their mouth while sleeping.
Therefore, the parent must be vigilant in identifying the problem. There are several signs that you can look for, which are listed below.
Symptoms of Mouth Breathing
Here are some of the signs and symptoms that may indicate your toddler is mouth breathing:
- Dry mouth
- Cracked lips
- Bad breath
- Waking up with a headache
- Mouth breathing during the day
- Increased snoring
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Night terrors
These are only a few of the potential symptoms that your toddler might experience if they are mouth breathing. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should consult with a doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
Mouth breathing can also cause changes in the facial structure, which may become noticeable to parents who suspect this condition.
You may also notice that your toddler is sleepier throughout the day. This is a sign of mouth breathing because it leads to low oxygen concentration levels in the blood.
Causes of Mouth Breathing in Toddlers
There are many potential causes of mouth breathing in toddlers. Some of the most common include:
- Face structure
- Sinus infections
- Cold or flu
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- Deviated septum
- Nasal polyps
- Cleft palate or lip
Most cases of mouth breathing are related to the child’s jaw structure. Typically, a toddler’s jaw should be broad and U-shaped. However, some jaws may be smaller with overcrowded teeth.
In this case, the child often has an overbite with an out-of-position jaw. With a V-shaped jaw, the toddler will have a narrow palate. When the jaw is not aligned correctly, it obstructs nasal passages.
Seasonal allergies or sinus infections will often lead to a stuffy nose. When the nasal passages are obstructed, it leads to mouth breathing.
What is Chronic Mouth Breathing?
Chronic mouth breathing is when a child breathes through their mouth on a regular basis. Typically, mouth breathing occurs due to an acute condition, such as allergies or a sinus infection.
However, when it occurs regularly for more than three months, it is considered chronic mouth breathing. Unfortunately, if not corrected, it can have long-term effects on the child’s development.
How Does Mouth Breathing Affect a Child’s Development?
If mouth breathing is not corrected, it can lead to several developmental problems in toddlers. These include:
- Poor sleep quality
- Impaired growth
- Difficulty feeding
- Learning impairments
Mouth breathing can also cause problems with the teeth and gums. When a child breathes through their mouth, they are more likely to develop gum disease and tooth decay.
Additionally, mouth breathing can cause speech problems, behavior issues, and poor sleeping habits. Because the mouth is not opening and closing properly, the child cannot make all the sounds needed for speech. This can lead to a lisp or other problems with articulation.
Additionally, mouth breathing can cause a child to become hyperactive. This is due to the fact that mouth breathing reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain.
This can lead to problems with focus and concentration down the road. Mouth breathing has also been linked with bed-wetting, night terrors, and sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition that causes pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses last for more than ten seconds and may occur several times throughout the night.
Sleep apnea can result in several unwanted signs and symptoms, including:
- Daytime fatigue
- Waking up with a headache
- Increased snoring
- Difficulty concentrating
- Gasping for air
Mouth breathing is one of the most common causes of sleep apnea in children. If your child has sleep apnea, it is important to seek medical treatment. Otherwise, the condition can lead to serious health problems.
How To Fix Mouth Breathing in Toddlers
If you suspect your toddler is mouth breathing, it’s important to consult with a doctor. In some cases, the problem will resolve itself. However, if the mouth breathing is due to a structural problem, surgery may be necessary.
The most effective treatment for mouth breathing is to focus on correcting the underlying cause.
For example, this may involve allergy shots or medication for seasonal allergies. It should also involve avoiding common allergy triggers, such as:
- Animal dander
- Cigarette smoke
If the mouth breathing is due to a cold or sinus infection, the child may need antibiotics. A pediatrician will be able to determine if the toddler has nasal polyps, swollen tonsils, or inflamed adenoids.
Therefore, in some cases, an adenoidectomy or tonsillectomy may be necessary to correct the problem. These are common surgical procedures that involve removing the adenoids or tonsils.
Additionally, some children may need to use a humidifier or nasal spray to help with mouth breathing if the cause is due to a stuffy nose.
In some cases, a poor sleeping position can result in snoring and mouth breathing. An elevated head may help reduce the mucus buildup and clears the nasal passages. Sleeping on their back can sometimes make mouth breathing worse.
What if My Infant is Mouth Breathing While Sleeping?
If you notice that your infant is mouth breathing while sleeping, it is important to seek medical attention from a pediatrician. In most cases, this issue stems from a temporary condition such as a cold or allergies.
However, if the mouth breathing persists, it could be indicative of a more serious condition. Therefore, it is best to be evaluated by a medical professional to rule out any potential issues.
Mouth breathing in toddlers can often be corrected with treatment. However, if the condition is left untreated, it can lead to serious health complications.
If you believe your toddler is mouth breathing, consult with a doctor to discuss the best course of treatment. With the proper treatment, your toddler can live a healthy and normal life.
Mouth breathing in toddlers might seem innocent, but it can potentially lead to various health problems down the road. A few concerning symptoms are tied to mouth breathing, including physical abnormalities and behavioral issues.
Speaking to your pediatrician will help you find the best ways to prevent this nightly condition in your toddler.
But with a little guided help, your kiddo can get healthy and restful sleep without breathing through their mouth quite as often. Thanks for reading!
John Landry, BS, RRT
John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.
- Izu, Suemy Cioffi, et al. “Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS) in Mouth Breathing Children.” National Library of Medicine, Braz J Otorhinolaryngo, Sept. 2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20963335.
- Neiva, Patricia Dayrell, et al. “Postural Disorders in Mouth Breathing Children: A Systematic Review.” National Library of Medicine, Braz J Phys Ther, Jan. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5816083.
- Zhao, Ziyi, et al. “Effects of Mouth Breathing on Facial Skeletal Development in Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” National Library of Medicine, BMC Oral Health, Mar. 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7944632.
- Trosman, Irina, and Samuel Trosman. “Cognitive and Behavioral Consequences of Sleep Disordered Breathing in Children.” National Library of Medicine, Med Sci (Basel), Dec. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5753659.
Medical Disclaimer: The information provided by Respiratory Therapy Zone is for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with a physician with any questions that you may have regarding a medical condition.