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How Your Child’s Breathing is Affecting its Facial Development by Anders Olsson

childrens_teeth_150pxLet’s face it we all want our children to grow up to be healthy and attractive. This desire is reflected in the vast amount of money parents invest in straightening their children’s teeth. But straight teeth alone do not create a good-looking face. And even good genes don’t guarantee that a child will grow up to be attractive. For as the images below illustrate, how your child breathes dictates how it’s jaw, teeth, chin, cheekbones, and even its lips develop.

A good-looking face is determined by a strong, firm chin, developed jaws, high cheekbones, good lips, correct nose size and straight teeth. When a child’s face develops correctly, it follows that its teeth will be straight. But even the most attractive child’s looks will deteriorate if it develops the habit of breathing predominantly through its mouth rather than it’s nose.

develop--straight-teeth_475pxwImages published with agreement of Professor John Mew.

In only two years this girl developed crooked teeth because of mouth breathing. Breathing through the mouth creates changes in the jaws, which eventually affects the position of a child’s teeth, smile, facial development and upper airways.

john_mew_475pxwImages published with agreement of Professor John Mew.

The photograph on the left above shows a boy at the age of ten. He breathes through his nose and has a well-developed face. Everything is proportional and the boy has well-defined eyes, cheekbones, lips and chin. When he was 14, he got a gerbil and developed an allergy that left him with a stuffy nose, which caused him to start breathing through his mouth. The photos in the middle and on the right show the same boy at the age of 17. Breathing through his mouth caused his face to grow downward instead of forward, making his face long and narrow. His nose looks larger and his chin is narrow because his upper and lower jaws did not grow forward. Facial changes caused by mouth breathing lead to constricted breathing passages that in turn may lead to snoring and sleep apnea.

We teach our children a thousand and one things but we invariably overlook one of the most important things of all, and that is how to breathe. The tragedy is that more than 80 per cent of four-year-olds today breathe through their mouths most of the time!

Braces and pulling teeth will not solve the underlying problem
When prominent Australian dentist John Flutter noticed that the corrections he made to his patients were not having a lasting effect, he started looking at alternatives to braces and pulling teeth. Dr Flutter, who has lectured in more than 65 countries, says, “I no longer pull teeth or install braces. Pulling teeth leads to smaller jaws and airways. Braces prevent the jaw from growing forward, which also leads to smaller airways. The single most important thing you can do to improve a child’s health is to establish nasal breathing.

The conclusion Dr Flutter and many other dentists and orthodontists have arrived at is that the way we breathe and swallow, as well as our posture, can affect the development of our jaws, teeth and faces. The five most important factors for the healthy development of the face, teeth and airways are:

  1. Breathing should be in and out through the nose.
  2. At rest, the mouth should be closed with the lips together.
  3. The tongue should rest against the palate.
  4. Only the tongue should be active when swallowing.
  5. Posture should be erect.

The sooner nasal breathing is established the better
The earlier in life that the bad habit of breathing through the mouth is established, the bigger the risk that your child’s face, teeth and airways will be affected negatively. The development of the face is 90 percent complete by early adolescence. It is therefore desirable to establish nasal breathing, correct swallowing, and good posture as early in life as possible.

john-flutter-475pxwImages published with agreement of Dr. John Flutter.

An article in the publication General Dentist by Yosh Jefferson reported that “Children who are not treated for mouth breathing can develop long, thin faces, thin mouths, high palate, crooked teeth, exposure of the gums when smiling, etc. These children sleep worse at night due to the blocked airways and the lack of sleep can affect their growth and academic performance negatively. Many of these children are incorrectly diagnosed with ADD and hyperactivity.” Jefferson further stated that if mouth breathing is treated early its negative effects on facial and dental development and their associated medical and social problems can be reduced or avoided.

conscious-breathing-maxillaThe bone in the upper jaw (the maxilla) gives the face its form
The upper jawbone (the maxilla) is a large bone that lies in the middle of the face and runs from the teeth up to the eyes, and hence largely determines facial appearance. A normal consequence of mouth breathing is that the upper jawbone grows downward and backward instead of forward and to the sides, resulting in a thinner upper jaw and face. Since the upper jawbone comprises 85% of the nasal passages, an underdeveloped upper jaw results in more constricted passages. This creates a vicious circle, in which it becomes harder and harder to breathe through the nose.

The tongue affects the shape of the upper jaw
A well-developed upper jaw (the maxilla) has a broad palate and low arch. The maxilla cannot develop to its inherited potential without assistance from the tongue. The tongue’s natural resting place is up against the palate, behind the front teeth. The teeth develop around the tongue and the upper jaw develops to the front and sides, stimulated by the tongue’s position behind the teeth and against the upper palate. In mouth breathing, the tongue is placed in the middle of the mouth, or down in the oral cavity in order to allow air to pass in and out through the mouth, which has a negative effect on the development of the bone in the upper jaw. Instead of being U-shaped, it becomes more V-shaped, making it hard for the teeth to fit. This also leads to the teeth not closing tightly against each other when biting.


                  U-shaped upper jaw                        V-shaped upper jaw

The tongue and lips affect dental positioning
The tongue is one of the strongest muscles in the body. Even the cheeks and lips are strong muscles. Every day, a person swallows about two thousand times. When we swallow normally only the tongue is active. It already rests against the palate, and when we swallow it presses up against it, stimulating the upper jaw. Considering that the tongue pushes up with a force of about half a kilogram each time, we can see that the upper jaw is stimulated with the pressure of quite a few kilograms over the course of a day.

The muscles in the tongue, cheeks and lips determine dental positioning in both the upper and lower jaw. These muscles work in a similar way that braces do—light pressure applied over longer periods has the ability to move a tooth. When swallowing incorrectly, we use more muscles than just the tongue, and the tongue’s force is directed elsewhere rather than up against the palate. This not only leads to under stimulation of the palate and a more crowded upper jaw, it can also affect the positioning of all the teeth in a negative way, which can result in crooked teeth.

Test your child’s swallowing pattern: Ask your child to drink a glass of water. If the water “swirls around” once or more in the mouth before being swallowed, this is an indication that the lips, cheeks and/or tongue are being overused when swallowing, which has a negative impact on the development of the teeth, face and airways in the nose and throat. Dr Raymond Silkman states:

The most important braces we all have with us, 24 hours a day, is our tongue.

What can you do for your children?

  • Inform. Help your children become more aware of their breathing in different situations. Encourage them to pay attention to the five important factors listed above – keeping their mouth closed and breathing through their nose as often as possible, resting their tongue up against the palate, swallowing in a relaxed manner, and maintaining an upright posture.
  • Improve your own breathing. Children tend to do as we do, not as we say, so you can inspire your children by establishing good breathing habits yourself.
  • Tape their mouths at night. Tape your children’s mouth with Sleep Tape. It is important this is done without coercion, as the aim is to lower their stress, not increase it. Try to keep the whole thing light and even playful. For example, you could tape up your mouths at the same time. Let them try it for a bit before going to bed, to get used to it. I do not recommend taping the mouths of children under the age of five.
  • Prolong exhalation. Exhalation is linked to relaxation and recovery, which is very important in today’s stressful society. Improved exhalation usually leads to improved inhalation. Using the Relaxator Breathing Retrainerhelps you inhale a deeper (not bigger) breath and prolongs the exhalation, promoting a more rhythmical breathing pattern. It is an excellent way to improve breathing, especially when in front of the computer, TV, doing homework, etc. The Relaxator is not recommended for use by children under the age of five.
  • Reduce the amount of foods that constrict the airways. Foods that lead to increased phlegm production result in more constricted airways, which can cause throat clearing or a runny nose. Wheat, dairy products, candy, ice cream, cookies, and refined carbohydrates, such as pasta, are examples of products that could cause increased phlegm production.
  • Physical activity with a closed mouth. If your children spend a lot of time in front of a computer or TV, encourage them to participate in physical activities with their mouths closed. Children who participate in high intensity activities like football or basketball, may play with an open mouth, which can become a constant habit. Try to stimulate them to exercise with a closed mouth as often as possible. Helping them shift back into the habit of nasal breathing can yield results faster than you would think.
  • Expanding the upper jaw. The width and length of the upper jaw can be changed at any age, and you can accomplish this by using a so-called expander, which is fitted and placed in the palate by an orthodontist. A slow expansion over a six to eight month period is preferable to a fast expansion over a two to three month period, as the latter runs the risk of regression. Be sure to research the available options if you decide to see an orthodontist about this. Crooked teeth are a symptom, not a cause, so it is not just about straightening them out; the specialist should also be able to see and determine the effects of the treatment on the development of the face as a whole. Another option is to use the Myobrace for Kids and Teens™ that can be purchased on the Internet. This is a removable appliance that is placed in your childs mouth during sleep and 1-2 hours during the day. The treatment period is usually 12 months

Dr William Hang advises:

Don’t wait to start treatment until teenage years. By that time, the majority of the face has finished developing and changes are harder to make. The earlier good breathing and swallowing habits are established, the better the results.”

What can be done for adults?
Since up to 90% of facial development is concluded by early adolescence, the chances of making lasting changes is better if begun before adolescence. However, adults may also be helped with an expansion appliance for example Myobrace for Adults™ or taping the mouth at night.

This article is based on the book The Power of Your Breath by Anders Olsson.

anders-olsson_150sqANDERS OLSSON is a passionate Swedish breathing nerd who thinks he can change the world into a more loving community by inspiring people to improve their breathing habits. He loves to exercise and once ran a half-marathon with duct tape over his mouth, just to show that it’s possible to run while only breathing through the nose. Anders is the founder of Conscious Breathing, a method he teaches in online seminars to individuals, sport coaches, therapists, doctors etc. You can connect with Anders on his Facebook page here (, on Twitter ( and via his website at