Mouth Breathing Can Cause Major Health Problems

I wanted to share some interesting information from a study that was published in one of my dental journals recently. It discussed upper airway obstruction, or mouth breathing and the affects it can have on patients, especially children.

Children whose mouth breathing goes untreated over time may suffer from abnormal facial and dental development, such as long narrow faces and mouths, gummy smiles, gingivitis, crooked teeth and many other unattractive facial features. Due to their obstructed airways these children do not sleep well at night which can adversely affect their growth and academic performance. This can often lead to a misdiagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and hyperactivity.

The majority of health care professionals are unaware of the negative impact of mouth breathing. Dentists may be in the best position to screen patients who suffer from the affects of mouth breathing since patients are seen on a regular basis. Treatment is available and especially if done early can reduce or eliminate the many medical and social problems that mouth breathing can cause.

I am tired today. You know why?

Last night, as part of my ongoing education in sleep medicine, I spent the night at a sleep lab. The staff at St. Mary Mercy Hospital Livonia Sleep Center was very kind in allowing me to observe their wonderful patient care. It was a chance for me to see in action many of the things I have been learning about over the past few years. The patients were very nice in allowing me to ask questions and the technician, Eric was very knowledgeable and did a great job of explaining things to me and in answering my many questions.

A couple of things really stuck with me after my visit. The first patient was having her sleep test done only because her husband was complaining about her heavy snoring. She felt that she was sleeping well and was not tired during the day. She had no medical problems and did not look like the typical patient who would be at risk for apnea. Observing her sleep test however was a different story. She stopped breathing (apnea) repeatedly, sometimes for longer than 30 seconds, and never was able to reach the restorative stage of sleep. She woke up after almost three hours and complained that she had not been to sleep at all.

The second patient was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea following her first sleep test and was having a sleep test done to properly fit and test a CPAP device. She looked like someone who was tired. She adapted quite quickly to the device, did not need much adjustment and sure enough after a short time fell into a deep restorative stage of sleep. It was very evident that she was suffering from a significant sleep debt.

The first patient was very fortunate to have a spouse that pushed her to get tested. Treating her for her obstructive sleep apnea could save her from significant medical problems and could even save her life! Witnessing the second patient sleep as she did confirmed how important treatment is and I know that it will change her life!

Research estimates that 17-20% of adults have obstructive sleep apnea and that number is expected to rise, making it more prevalent than diabetes and asthma. Less than 10% of those have been diagnosed. There are multiple treatment options including CPAP, oral appliances, or surgery but it must get recognized and diagnosed first! My own sleep test is next month, I will tell you all about it!

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