How Can Parents Recognize Breathing Disorders in Children?

The scientific evidence on breathing disorders in children is very clear; breathing disorders can lead to chronic medical problems that lower the quality and quantity of life.  What does that mean?  Breathing disorders adversely affect the quality of life in many ways including our children’s ability to participate in sports, stay focused in school, resist colds, socialize, and physically and neurologically grow and development (G&D).   Decreased quantity of life means that life expectancy may be shortened for those with breathing disorders.

The most important issue is nose breathing.  Humans are meant to be nose breathers.  The air we breathe is supposed to be filtered, warmed, moisturized and infused with nitric oxide (which is produced in the nasal sinuses) when we nose breathe.  The only time humans are supposed to supplement, not replace, our nasal breathing with mouth breathing is when exercise causes oxygen deprivation creating a need for additional air.  The tissues of the airway are very sensitive to the quality of the air we breathe.  Unfiltered air from the mouth is an irritant. When it hits the back of the throat and goes to the lungs it causes inflammation which lowers the lungs ability to absorb oxygen causing fatigue and over breathing.   Chronic mouth breathing will lead to chronic illnesses.

Parents want kids to grow up and have happy, healthy and long lives.  As parents, how can you recognize some common breathing issues that children may exhibit and who can help?

Recognition is the first step.  The things to look for are mouth breathing, hyperactivity, trouble in school learning and/or socializing, G&D markers, frequent colds, frequent ear and sinus infections, crowded teeth and a long (adenoid) face.

Observe your kids to see if they mouth breathe.  If their relaxed lip position has the lips apart, even slightly, they are mouth breathing.  If you are constantly telling your kids to not chew with their mouths open, be aware that this is a sign of unhealthy mouth breathing.  Peek in on your children while they sleep to see if their lips are fully closed and if they are drooling during sleep. Observe your child’s lips to see if they are chapped.  These are all signs of unhealthy mouth breathing and may be caused by a nasal obstruction and/or a tongue tie.

Hyperactivity often is expressed as the inability to sit still and affects learning and socialization.  Hyperactivity is one of the most common diagnoses for school aged children today.  Another common diagnosis in kids today is sports induced asthma.  Many of these children have breathing disorders that are undiagnosed.  Long-term use of medication is not the answer if the cause is unhealthy breathing.

Facial G&D is adversely affected by breathing disorders.  Poor facial G&D is often expressed as dental crowding and/or as a long (adenoid) face.  If your child exhibits these traits early evaluation and intervention is needed. 

Proper evaluation of children is the responsibility of parents, pediatricians and dentists.  Parents can tell   when their kids are struggling and can seek help.  Pediatricians monitor the G&D of most of the body and brain, and dentists monitor the G&D of the face.

Some dentists have attained extra training in recognition and treatment of airway/breathing disorders.  If you or your physician recognize any of these issues you should share that information with your dentist.  If your dentist is not trained in recognition and treatment of these issues, ask for a referral to a dentist who has training specific for breathing and airway care.                           


Dr. Robert A. Gallegos has completed a residency in Airway, is a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, visiting faculty of Spear Education, a member the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and the American Dental Association.  Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA.

Dr. Gallegos