Ever caught yourself yelling at your kids with a choice mom phrase like, “If you say one more word, I’m going to tape your mouth shut!”
That’s really not funny, but it is kind of funny that taping your kid’s mouth shut may be an incredibly healthy thing to do for their growth, development, and oral health.
In fact, for the last six months, I’ve been taping my five-year-old’s and eight-year-old’s mouths closed at night, and most of the time I tape my own shut, too.
This isn’t so I stop talking to my husband and finally get more sleep! It all has to do with mouth breathing at night, which is quite an unexpected health hazard.
Mouth Breathing Consequences
Here’s the thing: humans were actually designed to breathe through their noses. And the tongue, much to my dismay, is supposed to rest on the roof of your mouth.
Apparently my whole life I’ve had a lazy tongue that sloshes around on my lower teeth like it has no muscle tone. I have a lot of work to do to train that tongue to sit where it’s supposed to be! (Who knew there was even such a thing as tongue pressure, but here it is in a research study!)1
When a human child or adult breathes through their mouth at night, there’s a cascading negative health effect.2
Many people notice that mouth breathing causes snoring, which is just annoying to everyone. But did you know that snoring also poses a health risk to the snorer?
Mouth Breathing Changes the Shape of Your Face
When it comes to the shape of your face, breathing through the mouth causes the tongue to rest on the bottom jaw instead of the top, which, over time, allows the upper palate to grow more upward and pitch together.
This may cause the lower jaw to recede backward a little bit and create that face shape where someone looks like they have no chin, or other malocclusions (misalignments of the top and bottom jaw).3
A sign of mouth breathing can be a “gummy smile,” which my daughter now identifies everywhere since our introductory visit to our orthotropics dentist.
A weak chin, narrow face, and gummy smile really aren’t attractive, but aesthetics aside, this also creates airway issues as the back of the tongue begins to partially close off the airway.
Breathing Through the Mouth Affects Sleep and Growth Too!
As children grow, this general mouth shape causes them to get less oxygen at night, which makes it so that their sleep is not as deep and restorative. And now the health issues begin.
Some children may have behavioral issues because they are sleep deprived. Even if they have the right number of hours in bed, their sleep is just not as high quality, and a 2016 study found correlations with poor sleep and ADHD.4 In fact, a 2004 study found that 50% of kids with ADHD have signs of sleep-disordered breathing,5 and a 2006 study went so far as to suggest an association between poor sleep and hyperactivity.6
Poor sleep due to mouth breathing may even be a reason for ADHD misdiagnoses.7 You can read one mom’s story of her son’s bad behavior, her desperate attempts through diet, lifestyle, supplements and natural remedies to help him, and the ultimate discovery of his sleep disorder.
Some children may actually not grow as quickly, because their human growth hormone is reduced. HGH is secreted in larger amounts during sleep than wakefulness, and it’s highly influenced by poor sleep.8, 9
There’s even a chance that low quality sleep and reduced human growth hormone could increase the risk of obesity!10
More Cascading Effects of Mouth Breathing
Your dentist and chiropractor may both get more business if you’re a mouth breather, since all that air going through your mouth may cause gingivitis, bad breath, and cavities,11 and breathing through your mouth also tends to cause you to thrust your head forward (in an attempt to open your airway further), creating posture issues.12
If that’s not enough, let’s throw in some headaches, sore throats, and even high blood pressure, and we’re getting close to completing the list of negative health effects of mouth breathing.13
Who knew that something that seems so simple, a tiny miscalculation of the tongue and lips, can have such dire consequences???
In our family, we discovered some dust allergies that cause at least two of my kids to breathe through their mouths at night, and it’s all proving to be rather expensive, both in treating the dust allergies and fixing the oral shape with orthotropics.
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What Is Orthotropics?
Because of the altered mouth shape, some mouth breathing kids may have speech development issues, and almost all mouth breathers end up needing orthodontics or, better yet, orthotropics.
Two of my kids have begun the process of growing their faces in a new shape. That’s the gist of orthotropics. The practice uses oral appliances to guide the growth of the skull and jaw forward where they ought to be.
Instead of the orthodontics method of simply moving the teeth around in the jaw so that they are straight, orthotropics will allow the jaws to expand and move forward, both straightening the teeth and opening that airway. The face then grows around the jaws, so this process can only be done before puberty when skull growth is still happening at a rapid pace.
Our orthotropics dentist continues to tell us: “Lips together, teeth together, tongue on the roof of the mouth, breathing through the nose.” This is such important oral posture!
In fact, Patrick McKeown, Buteyko breathing instructor, and author, says that “No child reaches their full genetic potential if they are using their mouth to breathe.” Strong words!
You can watch this short YouTube video to learn more. He’s emphatic that we MUST help our kids breathe through their noses and that we’re allowing a child to underperform if we fail to address mouth breathing. He has a TEDx talk too, and it’s fascinating!!
With all of these health risks and what’s really a simple little habit to correct (simple habit, not always easy to correct of course), I figured we should start immediately in getting the whole family to breathe correctly.
I watched Cara’s video on how she uses mouth tape with her kids (some at night, the little one just during the day) and was convinced.
Why Try Mouth Taping to Get Back to Proper Nasal Breathing
Let’s get into the logistics. I always like being practical!
If you know your child snores or if you worry their sleep is not restorative; or honestly, if you just check their mouth at night and it’s hanging open or notice it lolling open during the day, this is a true problem that needs to be fixed, and it may only cost you a few bucks.
I know we already have a lot to worry about as parents, and it almost seems silly or inconsequential to try to retrain the way your kids breathe.
I mean, isn’t that just a natural process?
On the other hand, when you read about allllll the cascading health effects and consider that fixing this one little thing could potentially diminish a bunch of the other health, behavioral/discipline, and even academic worries we have, it seems like a no-brainer!
Big important disclaimer note: As with any medical choice or procedure, and technically even though it seems minor, this is, please consult a professional before embarking on mouth taping. If your child (or self) has obstructed breathing, they may not get enough oxygen at night, so make sure your body is ready for this training.
Is Mouth Taping at Night Scary or Dangerous?
It sounds scary, doesn’t it?
What if someone has to call out for help? What if they get sick? What if their nose is obstructed?
Keep in mind that the goal of mouth taping is really to remind the child (or adult) to keep their mouth closed and breathe through the nose, NOT to force it closed and keep it there.
For my little boys, I just used standard medical tape. And if they complain that it’s too sticky, or too tight, or I ever worried that they wouldn’t be able to open their mouths if they needed to, like in the case of a stomach virus or a nightmare, I would just use a smaller piece.
Remember that I’m doing this too, so I have personal experience. I could easily open my mouth in a hot second, but the mouth tape is a strong enough guide that I know I keep my mouth closed all night.
When the kids wake me up in the morning with a question (“What’s for breakfast?!?!”), I can pretty easily speak to answer them, although I admit that the tape is stickier and harder to get off in the morning than it is when it first goes on at night. The boys can still talk through it, believe me. 😉
When I don’t wear it, which is sometimes by the omission of bad memory and sometimes by choice, because I don’t want to do it if I’ve been drinking alcohol, I wake up with a very dry mouth, and I know I’ve been mouth breathing all night. It’s so frustrating!
Does the Mouth Tape Stay on All Night?
My five-year-old somehow gets his to fall off during the night, every single night. He’s never had his on in the morning. (This probably means he should spend some time with the mouth tape on during the day as well, like when he’s watching a show or listening to someone read to him.)
My eight-year-old claims that he still has his on in the morning sometimes. This is good because he is the one with has diagnosed dust allergies which may be the cause of all that mouth breathing.
However, as his nostrils can let enough air pass through, it’s perfectly safe and recommended by both our orthotropics dentist and our allergist to continue with the mouth taping. This is going to be important to teach him good oral posture as he moves through the orthotropics process.
Proper Oral Posture During the Day
The dentist also says it’s actually really important to work on mouth posture during the day so that it’s a conscious process as well.
She gave us plastic paper clips and requested that the kids hold it in their lips (not inside their mouth) for 20 minutes a day. The idea is to keep the lips closed for 20 consecutive minutes and practice proper nasal breathing with the tongue in the roof of the mouth.
The best time to do this so that the child (or adult!) isn’t tempted to talk, which is definitely cheating and makes the paper clip fall out, is while reading a book or perhaps doing something on the computer. For a while, I was doing these exercises as well, but I opted for just working on the habit. Writing this post is a good reminder to reinstate all the routines! (Because yeah, you know that we’ve lost some of those paper clips after a year in the process…)
Tutorial: How to do Mouth Taping at Night
This is pretty simple.
Buy some special mouth tape with little holes in the middle. That stuff is less sticky, definitely more comfortable and provides somewhat of an assurance that you’ll be able to breathe if your nostrils give out on you in the night. However, they cost about $1 a night, so the budget savings are immense with medical tape. Just tear off a little piece and put it on your lips. You might start even by putting a small piece vertically over the center to see if it’s still there in the morning, especially if you’re a little nervous that you won’t be able to open your mouth in time.
That’s it, y’all! Two steps!
Upcharge the process by doing some taping or paper clip during the day, and you can change your habits and improve your health!
This is just the beginning of what you can do with proper oral posture and breathing exercises, but it’s a great start!!
Learn more about proper breathing at the Buteyko Clinic, including free breathing videos. Patrick even released some breathing exercises to improve respiratory health during the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, your turn: Take a look at your kids right now and check your own mouth. Are they open or closed?
Peek at the kids at night too, and start to train your own brain to notice mouth-open posture and realize it’s an unhealthy thing, just like forgetting to wash your hands before coming to the table!
Mouth taping is a $2 fix to save $5-10,000 on orthodontics or orthotropics AND protect your kids from a range of other health issues.
Worth it? It’s the perfect intersection of the value of your time and money, just like good kitchen stewards prioritize!
Do you have mouth breathers in your family? Have I convinced you to fix the habit? Sources Azevedo, N.D., Lima, J.C., Furlan, R.M.M.M. & Motta, A.R. (2018 August). Tongue Pressure Measurement in Children With Mouth-Breathing Behaviour. Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, 45(8), 612-617. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29782038/ Musseau, D. (2016, Summer). Mouth Breathing and Some of Its Consequences. International Journal of Orthodontics, 27(2), 51-54. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29799704/ Grippaudo, C., Paolantonio, E.G., Antonini, G., Saulle, R., La Torre, G., & Deli, R. (2016, October). Association Between Oral Habits, Mouth Breathing and Malocclusion. Acta Otorhinolaryngol Italica, 36(5), 386-394. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27958599/ Vélez-Galarraga, R., Guillén-Grima, F., Crespo-Eguílaz, N. & Sánchez-Carpintero, R. (2016, November). Prevalence of Sleep Disorders and Their Relationship With Core Symptoms of Inattention and Hyperactivity in Children With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology, 20(6), 925-937. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27461837/ Golan, N., Shahar, E., Ravid, S. & Pillar, G. (2004, March 15). Sleep Disorders and Daytime Sleepiness in Children With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder. Sleep, 27(2), 261-6. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15124720/ Shur-Fen Gau, S. (2006, July 27). Prevalence of sleep problems and their association with
inattention/hyperactivity among children aged 6–15 in Taiwan. Journal of Sleep Research, 2006(15), 404-414. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2006.00552.x Mouth Breathing: Symptoms, Complications, and Treatments. (n.d.). Retrieved from URL https://www.healthline.com/health/mouth-breathing#causes Takahashi, Y., Kipnis, D.M. & Daughaday, W.H. (1968 September). Growth hormone secretion during sleep. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 47(9), 2079–2090. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC297368/ Saini, J., Krieger, J., Brandenberger, G., Wittersheim, G., Simon, C. & Follenius, M. (1993, July) Continuous positive airway pressure treatment. Effects on growth hormone, insulin and glucose profiles in obstructive sleep apnea patients. Hormone and Metabolic Research. 25(7), 375‐381. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8406324/ Van Cauter, E., Spiegel, K., Tasali, E. & Leproult, R. (2008, September) Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep Medicine. Suppl 1(0 1), S23‐S28. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18929315/ Surtel, A., Klepacz, R. & Wysokińska-Miszczuk, J. (2015, December) Wpływ toru oddechowego na jamę ustną [The influence of breathing mode on the oral cavity]. Pol Merkur Lekarski. 39(234), 405‐407. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26802697/ McKeown, P. & Macaluso, M. (2017, March 9). Mouth Breathing: Physical, Mental and Emotional Consequences. Retrieved from https://www.oralhealthgroup.com/features/mouth-breathing-physical-mental-emotional-consequences/ Hornsby, S. (n.d.). Mouth Breathing. Retrieved from https://myfaceology.com/mouth-breathing/
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