Sleep + Breathing: Your Questions Answered

We previously wrote a blog on the evolving skull based on an article by Katherine Reynolds Lewis. Now, we are taking a deeper dive into the critical relationship of sleep and breathing by answering some FAQs. 

What happens when children mouth-breathe or snore?

It is a vicious cycle the article explains, “The air passing through their throat dries out tissues and raises the risk for infection and inflammation, which would further compress the airway. They miss the many benefits of nasal breathing and disuse causes the nasal airway to shrink, exacerbating the problem. When a child’s jaw is too short and palate too narrow, their tongue cannot rest against the roof of the mouth and instead rests against the lower teeth. This causes them to routinely breathe through the mouth, an unhealthy habit. Then, as they lie flat to sleep, the tongue may fall back to block the throat, causing apnea (intermittent waking due to a blocked airway).”

How do problems with sleep and breathing relate to feeding ?

A leading pediatric dentist in Chicago, Dr. Kevin Boyd, says that the widespread adoption of bottle feeding, pacifiers and soft processed food deprives toddlers of practicing chewing and distorts the shape of their mouths. “More babies are born with anatomy that makes nursing and breastfeeding difficult, raising the risk of developing dysfunctional feeding habits,” said feeding specialist Diane Bahr. “More time on their backs than their tummies, processed foods, bottle feeding, and pacifiers contribute to the misshapen jaw, impairing breathing and sleep.” They may develop a chronic sinus infection and congestion impacting their ability to smell and can lose their appetite or become picky eaters, preferring pasta because it’s easier to chew.

This article and meta-analysis made it very clear…Once sleep suffers, a range of other problems begin to develop and there is no easy way to turn back the evolution of our skulls! We are stuck with our smaller modern faces, but there are steps we can take to address the conditions that come with them. Myofunctional therapy can encourage the jaw to grow wider and more forward in order to align the teeth and enlarge the airway. The sooner you intervene, the sooner the airway expands and kids start to develop good habits for nasal breathing and tongue position. Traditionally, orthodontists are most concerned with straightening teeth, rather than moving the mandible forward as a primary goal. I personally think we need to take more of a preventative stance. “Changing our sleeping and breathing habits can transform our physical and mental health. It all begins in our jaw, mouth, and throat anatomy, which shape the path of each breath.”

– Tala Brinderson MA, OTR/L

Infinity Kids Owner + Occupational Therapist


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