Breathing through the mouth is quite well known as a possible cause of snoring — but did you know that mouth breathing can also result in tooth decay? There are a number of reasons for this, and it’s mainly connected to saliva and bacteria.
The Breathing and Tooth Decay Connection
The connection between breathing and tooth decay only became known in recent years. When many dental patients started reporting dry mouth when waking up, dentists started to realize that those same people often suffered from tooth decay. These patients were sometimes sleep apnea sufferers.
Sleep apnea sufferers struggle to breathe while they’re sleeping — in fact, they stop breathing completely for brief periods throughout the night. The body responds to this by gasping — breathing through the mouth with considerable force. After multiple apnea episodes during the night, some patients eventually started sleeping with their mouth open at all times, which encouraged mouth breathing rather than breathing through the nose.
Mouth dryness is a natural side effect of sleeping with an open mouth, and it’s also quite common even if sleep apnea sufferers sleep with their mouth closed. Many patients who report dry mouth, and who also have tooth decay, may not realize that they sleep with their mouth open or that they breathe through their mouth — and thus, the reason for the tooth decay wasn’t really known until dentists started investigating the mouth breathing and tooth decay connection.
Saliva and Mouth Breathing
Saliva helps keep the mouth healthy by maintaining the proper pH balance. It keeps the good bacteria in your mouth and helps banish the bad bacteria when saliva is at healthy levels. However, if your child breathes through their mouth all night, their saliva levels will become very low — which is why dry mouth occurs.
Low saliva levels can cause more acidity within the mouth. An acidic mouth — one with too little saliva — is not able to restore itself to a healthy balance. This means that the enamel will start to wear away, leaving your child’s teeth highly vulnerable to decay.
The difference between sleeping with an open mouth and a closed mouth can literally mean the difference between developing serious tooth decay and maintaining optimal oral health. Therefore, if your child is a mouth breather during the night, it’s well worth doing everything in your power to correct it before it causes serious issues.
The Treatments for Open Mouth Breathing
To get the proper treatment for open mouth breathing, it’s important to first get the correct diagnosis. Your pediatric dentist can discuss your child’s sleeping habits with you and can also perform a thorough exam that may yield important clues as to why your child is breathing this way overnight. In many cases, the cause is sleep apnea or another breathing disorder. The treatment for breathing disorders can vary according to the severity of the issue, but most young patients are able to get relief without surgery. Some specialized devices can encourage nose breathing while discouraging mouth breathing while your child sleeps. Your child may also benefit from a CPAP machine, especially if the sleep apnea is severe. Most of the time, your dentist can help with breathing disorders.
In some cases, the reason for the mouth breathing is very simple — and easy to correct. Some people tend to breathe through their mouth more when they leave the ceiling fans running overnight or when they keep the temperature too warm in their bedroom. As a parent, you have control of any environmental factors that could contribute to your child’s mouth breathing, so it’s always best to correct those things as soon as possible. It may take your child a little time to get used to sleeping without a fan, but they’ll realize great benefits in terms of your oral health long term. It’s well worth making a few small concessions now rather than having to get cavities filled later.
No matter why your child is breathing through their mouth at night, there’s help available. Don’t let mouth breathing cause cavities and other dental issues — call Pediatric Dentistry of Central Florida for an appointment today!