Does your child seem to sleep poorly or wake up grumpy? There are many causes, one of them being how your child breathes. There is natural help for mouth breathing to get a well-rested child.
Every parent does it. Every night.
Before you get in bed, you check on your sleeping child.
You stand there for a minute watching them lay there so peacefully.
Unless your child is a mouth breather.
Then you see covers strewn about and a child tossing and turning. You hear snoring and snuffling.
Sleeping While Mouth Breathing Looks Anything but Peaceful
Not only does it look bad, it is bad. Mouth breathing has a big impact on health and behavior. Here are some of the effects of mouth breathing.
- Restless sleep/change positions constantly.
- Lack of clean oxygen to the body (that comes through the nose).
- Bad breath and body odor.
- Sensitive teeth/chewing problems/dental problems.
- Adrenal fatigue/lack of sleep.
- Sleeping problems/hard to settle down/inability to nap.
- Lack of focus/symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
- Mood swings/tantrums/meltdowns.
- Oral sensory processing disorder.
- Narrow mouth/palette.
This list of symptoms should not describe any child. But it does. My daughter included. She had displayed every single symptom on this list at only seven years old.
Why do Kids Mouth Breathe?
Mouth breathing happens during the day and night and can have a variety of causes. For my daughter the root issue is environmental allergies.
Her first symptoms started at a very young age with chewing problems and sensitive teeth. She needed pureed foods until age two. But things really started to get worse around age three when she stopped napping and could no longer settle down during the day.
We played around with diet and removed gluten and anything artificial. We saw some improvement, but not enough.
How Allergies Impact Mouth Breathing
At five years old we had her tested for allergies and discovered severe dust mite and mold allergies. The allergist put her on a steroid nasal spray. Although hesitant we tried it for a while with no improvement. So we turned to more natural remedies.
Natural Treatment Options for Mouth Breathing
My daughter is now 13 and breathing through her nose most of the time. It is quite amazing to see the difference in her health, mood, and behavior. She has been given a new start after years of mouth breathing.
Every child is different and responds differently to treatments. But if your child is a mouth breather it is important to figure out what works for him or her and find a way for him or her to get quality oxygen and sleep. Here are the treatments we have used.
- Speech therapy – We saw a speech therapist for three years. It is great for calming the body, integrating reflexes, and training the mouth. Being able to do exercises at home that open the nasal passage is also wonderful.
- Remove food allergies – Allergies to food can cause inflammation anywhere in the body, including the nose/airway. You can figure out allergies through formal testing, an elimination diet, muscle testing, or trial and error. Cut the offending foods out completely while you work on healing.
- Craniosacral therapy – Sometimes breathing problems are due to a restriction in the body. CST releases tension and alows the airways to open naturally (learn more about CST here).
- Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis – When a child is lacking in minerals, is out of balance, or struggles to detox heavy metals, he or she can have numerous symptoms, including inflammation, allergies, and breathing difficulties. HTMA helps get to the root of the problem and get the body back in balance (learn more about HTMA here).
- Clean the whole house and clear out the bedroom – Dust and mold allergies are some of the biggest offenders. Dust mites live in mattresses, pillow cases, couches and stuffed animals. Dust collects quickly on dressers, toy boxes and bookshelves. There are some simple solutions.
- Use dust mite covers on the mattress and pillow case.
- Change bedding weekly and wash it in hot water.
- Remove stuffed animals from the bed.
- Clean the floor regularly. Wood floors are ideal. If possible remove carpet.
- Remove as much clutter from the bedroom as possible.
- Dust regularly in the bedroom and the whole house.
- Keep windows free of mold.
- Diffuse essential oils – Essential oils can provide a tremendous improvement in breathing. A blend of lemon, lavender and peppermint diffused through the night is effective for clearing airways. Purification is great too.
- Palette expansion.
Palate Expansion for Mouth Breathing
Palate expansion has had the biggest impact on my daughter’s health. Her mouth breathing has caused her palate to gradually become narrower and narrower. We found a naturally-minded dentist that focuses on expansion plus reshaping the jaw. It is not just the typical expander for a few months and then move on to braces.
There are a few different methods of expansion. We are using Biobloc Orthotropics. It is a three-year process with several phases. First the mouth is widened to allow room for all of the teeth and to open the nasal passage. Then the jaw is reshaped.
My daughter is breathing through her nose more in the night and getting better quality sleep. She is using mouth exercises to practice keeping her mouth closed during the day to retrain her jaw. No more sitting with her mouth wide open!
We also use tape over her mouth at night. I know it sounds strange, but our orthodontist suggested it…and it really works! You can buy special tape already cut in strips or use a hypoallergenic medical tape. Just avoid it if your child has a cold or is really stuffy. You can read more about mouth taping here!
No more bad breath! She is also much more efficient at eating. Instead of a meal taking an hour she can finish in about ten minutes.
Mouth breathing is just one challenge that originates in the mouth. There are many conditions that start with the mouth! So how do you know what it is? Use this quick and easy Mouth Assessment Guide!
Can you Eliminate Mouth Breathing?
We have many days now of greatly improved focus and attention and with less hyperactivity. She is able to quickly get herself ready for school in the morning and stay on task at school.
Her adrenal health is gradually improving as she gets more sleep and we continue with a nutrient dense, allergen-free diet. Her hair and nails are stronger. She has not had severe skin problems this winter for the first time in years.
The mouth breathing is not 100% gone, but it is drastically decreased. We are still using tape at night and doing mouth exercises during the day.
Is Your Child a Mouth Breather?
Don’t let it go untreated. It will change the shape of the face and impact overall health. Find the root problem (i.e. allergies). Then seek appropriate treatment to eliminate it.
Finally, consider palate expansion to undo the structural damage, keep the nasal passage open, and create a beautiful smile with enough room for all of your child’s teeth. I’m so thankful we stopped the mouth breathing in its tracks, and my daughter has been given a new start. Her smile says it all.
This post is linked to Savoring Saturdays.
I have a few more questions regarding this treatment. My oldest son (7yeara old also) struggles with many of the symptoms you listed and I’ve been taking with our dentist who has been less than helpful. Would you mind emailing me so I can ask a few more questions and get a referral to the office you use? We are local in GR. Thanks!
Thank you so much for sharing your experience with this! Thanks so much for sharing them with us at Savoring Saturdays last week, sorry I’m so late commenting this week.
I just discovered this about six months ago when my daughter turned seven . The dentist told me that her pallet is narrow but I never realized the seriousness of the situation . For the past six months I have been researching everything I could to try and fix this habit . We are working with the speech therapist and a great orthodontist but it does take time . Yesterday we had 10 cavities filled which I believe is a direct result of mouth breathing . Your situation sounds identical to mine . How long have you working on this ? Was there anything specific that you did to promote nose breathing through the night?
My daughter is now going on 9. She’s been doing orthodontic treatment for close to 2 years now. The stuff we’re doing is a 3 year process. It has been very helpful to expand her palate. You can buy mouth tape (I know it seems odd) that you put over the lips at night to sort of force the nose breathing. It is quite helpful.
I’m considering mouth tape. I have a snoreshield Thai never used. I’m trying to get her to try it as it helps keep the mouth closed! Thanks, your info is spot on!
I’d love details on the speech therapist you used to help in this process. Thank you!
The speech therapy taught mouth strengthening exercises . We did them 3 times a day for months and went weekly. They did not work for us. 3M mouth tape at night (only if your child is on board) is helpful. I think orthodontia is the best thing so far. Don’t give up!!! Good luck!
Orthodontics have worked best for us as well. We stopped all the other therapies until we did orthodontics. I knew until we took care of that part the others wouldn’t fully work. Now that we’re about done with orthodontics I want to start doing some of the speech therapy exercises again!
That is my plan as well! Good luck!
This topic is so fascinating! Fixing my older 2’s palates helped with their breathing tremendously as well, and we didn’t really even have issues to begin with! I just wanted to make room for their adult teeth! Dr O is the best – can’t wait to get Cait started this summer!
Your girls’ teeth look so great! Wow, starting Cait already? You’ll be done with ortho work so early!! We’ll probably start Abram next year…once Simon is older and I can make the long drive frequently.
So interesting. My second daughter has all those symptoms you listed, too! Her teeth and breath are awful and I had no idea this was a thing! So much to think about and research now… Thank you!
I hope you get it figured out!!
My son is a mouth breather, and I had NO idea of the implications that could mean for his health! He’s almost 15… I wonder if it’s too late??
I would say it’s never too late! It’s tempting to fix my own narrow mouth.
My son is only 1.5, but I’ve noticed his mouth hangs open very often especially while sleeping! Usually he is still breathing through his nose, though, which makes me wonder if it’s caused by an inherited facial structure or palate issue (from my husband — he is an occasional mouth breather) rather than allergies/sinus inflammation. Of course I can’t do mouth tape or orthodontics at this age… do you have any ideas for preventing having to do so in the future? I close his lips when I notice it, but if he’s sleeping his mouth will drop back open in a few seconds. I’m so worried about it getting worse and affecting his health!
It’s tricky when they are so little! Have you done any allergy testing to rule that out? Yes, it is common these days for kids to have a narrow palate that impacts their whole facial structure and breathing. I’d find a dentist that specializes in palate expansion/orthotropics and get him evaluated. I have a friend that starts her girls as early as age 3 to prevent problems down the road (with the same dentist we see). So you might be able to start earlier than you think. And if you catch it early it is easier to fix. Is it only while he sleeps? Or all day?
It’s harder to tell when he’s awake because he’s always talking or smiling, but I think it is his natural tendency to leave his lips parted all day. He also occasionally has bad breath or chapped lips. I’m planning to make an appointment with his pediatrician to start, and I’ll ask about allergy testing! Is there an easy way to find a orthotropic dentist? We live in a small town so I’ll probably have to search surrounding areas.
You can look up a dentist here: https://orthotropics-na.org/find-a-member/
Yes, the bad breath is a sign. Doesn’t hurt to get evaluated. Our dentist does it for free.
I’m super interested in this topic, Mary because my daughter is a mouth breather. We have eliminated allergens and it has helped, but she still needs more help. I’ve been looking into a palate expander, but I’m having trouble finding a dr to help us with this. Any thoughts?
You can find a doctor that uses the treatment we did here: https://orthotropics-na.org/find-a-member/ It really does make a difference!
We considered orthotropics, and had an assessment. Interestingly, the orthodontist said that the main use of the Biobloc appliance is to train the child to breathe through the nose. The treatment is quite expensive, so it’s out of our price range at the moment. The orthodontist recommended Buteyko breathing as instructed by Patrick McKeown as an alternative since she knew we couldn’t afford her services. Since then I’ve read a couple of his books and watched hours of his videos. Changing breathing patterns is very difficult (for me and my kids) but I have seen much improvement in myself and my son.
We do steps exercises everyday. And the easiest and very successful trick of using paper tape on the mouth during the day (besides at night) is finally helping us change the breathing habits. I try for two hours a day. Patrick McKeown says that it takes 60-90 days for neuroplasticity to make a new habit.
Glad you are finding something that works, Katie! And thanks for sharing. We have done some Buteyko breathing exercises. But definitely haven’t been consistent. We don’t tape during the day, but do use a paper clip or button to hold between the lips to keep the mouth closed and strengthen the muscles.
Thank you for this post, Mary! Did your daughter show any symptoms of allergies when you discovered she was a mouth breather?
My six year old can physically breathe through her nose, but is breathing out of her mouth both day and night. I know she is capable of breathing out of her nose, because we have practiced breathing that way, but she has gotten into the habit of mouth breathing, not sure when/why it started.
The only allergy symptom she has is some discoloration under her eyes, which I feel like might be a cause of the mouth breathing.
We live in Hawaii, and unfortunately there aren’t any orthotropic practitioners listed in the directory you provided in previous comments 🙁
Do you have any other thoughts on where we could seek help? My daughter did see a speech therapist for about six months because she was having a hard time with certain pronunciations, but she did great and graduated from that. The speech therapist never taught us any mouth strengthening exercises, though.
When my daughter was younger she had a stretch where she was getting hives regularly – which we found out was from her dust allergy. The breathing definitely becomes habitual, even if they are able to breathe normally.
If you are able to do palate expansion (most orthodontists offer it), that is a really big help. You can also look into Buteyko breathing. https://www.buteykobreathing.org/ Or Orofacial Myofunctional therapy. Using medical tape on her mouth at night helps a lot too.
Has she been tested for allergies? If she has a dust or mold allergy there are things you can do to help improve air quality in your home, like dust mite covers on pillows and beds and washing bedding in hot water weekly.
Daneille, for my three sons our dentist recommended three different things. My oldest (age 11) has the orthotropic expander in right now. Because he will be losing baby teeth sooner, there wasn’t time to first try therapy. My second (age 10) is going to Myofunctional Therapy with a Speech therapist. Not all speech therapists are trained to do this, and she didn’t advertise (I didn’t find her on the internet) – our dentist just knew she did this. Maybe calling around with dentists and speech therapist you might find someone. Also, after we signed up with a dentist 25 miles away, I found out that a dentist in town is starting to do Biobloc treatment on kids of her hygienists… she’s just not advertising on her website yet. So maybe ask around?
My youngest (age 6) would benefit from Myofunctional Therapy if he were cooperative. He is not, and the therapist said he is quite young to be able to follow the instructions. So for him the dentist recommended using a myomunchee. First 5 minutes at bedtime, then over two weeks working up to 20 minutes in a row. We then follow with tape at night. We have also been doing STEPS exercises with him for two years, twice a day. That alone was enough to keep him from having his night-time cough (whenever he we didn’t do it for a couple days, it would be back). We have now moved up to three times a day (most days) for STEPS, because we weren’t really improving, just maintaining.
So probably the Myomunchee is available to you. My dentist actually uses the T4K Trainer (the green one, at this point). She said it’s designed similar to the Myomunchee, but the child just holds it in his mouth with his lips closed over it (big job at first!) instead of chewing. She said originally they Myomunchee was made with real rubber and could stand up to the chewing, but now it’s made of silicone, and patients will chew through it. Anyway, I’m sure either one would be great. Go slowly – build up the muscles over time (that was in bold on the instructions :).
The last thing she recommended, that I keep forgetting to try, is Xclear nasal spray (with xylitol) once in the morning and once before bed. She said that could help open up the airway.
I definitely recommend doing the MyoMunchee and Steps! My youngest had started getting night terrors for a couple months before we started the MyoMunchee and within a week of using it, he stopped having night terrors. I have also seen his face structure improve in just two months of using it. Also – he sits on my lap/next to me and we read together for MyoMunchee time so that I can monitor to make sure his lips are closed (with lots of praise)!
I recommend https://buteykoclinic.com/ for learning Steps exercises.
Patrick McKeown is the best! Sometimes on his website the entire course for children is free! I have also searched Youtube and Vimeo for very helpful videos. I also took a clinic with him that was helpful. He now recommends children run instead of walk for steps (we try to do that when we can).
God bless you on your journey!
One more thought – have you considered that her mouth breathing is actually causing her allergies?? When you breath through the nose, the air is filtered, but when you breath through the mouth, allergens get in your body much more. Also, the reaction to mouth breathing is often a stuffy nose as your body is trying to reduce the amount of air you breathe in. It makes for a frustrating cycle that you must break counter-intuitively.
Thanks so much Mary for answering my questions and sharing a little more. Our daughter has not been allergy tested and you inspired me to make an appt today! The allergy dept is booked way out to January but at least we are now on the books 🙂
And thank you Katie for sharing your experience and tips! Thank you for taking the time to write such a long response 🙂 everything you said really resonated with me! I found a myofacial therapist that does Skype visits (because we do not have any locally) however I am concerned as to whether or not my daughter will cooperate (like you were saying about your son that is six) and it is a huge investment ($2400 for the treatment program). That’s a lot to spend if you aren’t sure if your child will cooperate. That is why I was hoping to take some baby steps first (like the paper clip exercise). I did purchase a Myunchee last month! I haven’t been consistent with having my daughter wear it because she didn’t love it but maybe I need to try again. I will definitely look into Butekyo breathing! This has been a challenging health journey for me because I really feel like correcting the mouth breathing is the ticket for remedying my daughters health challenges (she has a hard time sleeping at night and waking up in the morning, along with being grumpy) and the discoloration under her eyes.
It was a blessing to hear from both of you! Thank you for the information!
Like Katie said, just do one thing at a time. Even just starting with mouth taping and holding a paperclip between the lips for a while each day can make a big difference – and cost very little!
I will say, over time I realized that some of this stuff was just my daughter’s personality and not something I could “fix.” I highly recommend the book “The Child Whisperer.” My daughter is a type 1. And they are random/unstructured by nature, including their sleep!
Nutrition is also key. I find magnesium lotion before bed helps a ton. She also tells me she sleeps better if she drinks a glass of milk before bed and if she doesn’t eat anything sweet before bed.
Lots of little things to play around with.
You’re welcome. Finding health solutions, especially for your child, can be stressful. You’re a good mama! Take one step at a time 🙂
Thanks for the encouragement, Mary & Katie! I feel like we live in a society where we want “instant results” and I know this is going to be a longer process. I just wish I had some sort of healthcare practitioner that could guide me.
Our pediatrician is great, but doesn’t seem concerned with mouth breathing. Unless someone (individual or healthcare practitioner) has studied the risks of mouth breathing, I don’t think they understand the heath issues associated with it.
One more question—have any of your children dealt with nighttime bed wetting? My six year old is still in pull ups, she’s never stayed dry. I’ve read that mouth breathing can actually be a factor, because when you mouth breathe you aren’t getting deep breaths all the way down into your diaphragm. We are working with an occupational therapist to help with core strengthening exercises, which has been helpful for daytime accidents she was having, but when I expressed my thoughts on mouth breathing she had no idea what I was talking about, she said she was a mouth breather herself 😉
My 5 yo has struggled with bed wetting a bit. The thing that helps the most is magnesium lotion. I wrote about it in this post: https://justtakeabite.com/2019/05/26/two-ingredient-diy-magnesium-lotion/
The other factor that I think most parents overlook is constipation. It puts pressure on the bladder. I dealt with that myself as a child and was a bed wetter. To this day I struggle with digestion. I wish my parents had gotten me help when I was little! Even if your child has bms daily they can still be constipated. The magnesium lotion will help with that too. But you may need to adjust diet as well.
When my son was little he would SOAK through his diaper every night. After we got him tested for allergies we found he had a lot of food allergies, removed the problem foods, and the excessive urination stopped.
So there can be many factors.
Okay, I just ordered the Magnesium lotion (if it works, I’ll work on making it myself). Did it help your son at all? Do you have any bed-wetters anymore? My kids are on SUCH strict diets that it’s hard to imagine there’s anything else to remove that they could be allergic to. We probably should eat earlier in the evening, that could be something to change. We often eat dinner right before bedtime.
My son generally does not use the lotion. I don’t know why he doesn’t want to, but he doesn’t. He is a great sleeper, though. My girls are in LOVE with it! And put it on for every ailment they can think of 😛
Is your diet restricted due to actual allergies or for health reasons or sensitivities? If they haven’t been tested for allergies you’d be surprised what crazy foods can come up. My son was allergic to rice! (plus a long list of other things) Or if there are foods you eat all the time/daily those can become sensitivities. Even “normal” foods that you don’t think about.
Yes, all three of my boys are bed-wetters, and the dentist says we’re on the right path. We’ll see! Two of my boys had day-time accidents until we went on elimination diets, and will have accidents if they accidentally eat something outside of their diets.
So interesting, Katie! I definitely feel like everything is connected with what we are experiencing! Please keep me posted on your wellness journey 🙂
I had one more question about orthotropics; how often do your children need to go for visits? There aren’t any doctors in our state (Hawaii) that offer the service but there are a few on the west coast. If visits were quarterly or spread apart more than that, I might consider flying out to see someone for my daughter. She’s at the age where we would have to start treatment soon.
Unfortunately in the early stages appointments are about every two weeks. It’s the only reason we haven’t started my son yet. Now that we moved our dentist is about 40 minutes away. And it’s a big commitment to go every 2 weeks for a while. Even if you can’t do the orthotropics, I think if you can find an orthodontist that will do palette expansion first and then braces that can be very helpful. It’s the expansion that really opens the airway.
Thanks Mary! I’ll keep searching for a practitioner here. Hopefully I can find one that does palate expansion 🙂
I read some of the comments, but not all. Not sure if I’m the first to mention this, but a tongue-tie can be the route problem as well, even causing the arched pallete and mouth breathing. My biologic dentist noticed mine and said it’s genetic, and I should check my kids. 4 out of 5 have a tie with 2 or 3 being the most tied (on a1-4 scale) and having symptoms including many on this list and bed wetting. The osteopath that the dentist referred me to said there can be a few reasons for bed wetting. In my son’s case, if he’s mouth breathing at night and getting more congested, the poor sleep often includes apnea events. There apnea makes his heart good more fluid for a time. Whenever a person’s heart is holding more fluid than normal, it automatically sends a hormone to the kidneys to send of more fluid. Hence his need to urinate more at night than in the day.
It was so interesting and felt like many puzzle pieces from my young years and his were finally making sense. If poor sleep isn’t taken care of, it can spiral into future health problems and crisis (like my own auto immune disease). So we are currently doing tongue exercises to prepare him for a frenectomy (tongue-tie release via laser). He may have to have orthodontia after that to correct the pallet too. Hoping and praying this works for him too!
Good point, LeAnn! Yes, a tongue tie can be the root cause of so many issues. My two youngest had tongue/lip tie revisions. It’s amazing what a difference it can make to correct it.
More interesting information! My daughter doesn’t have a tongue tie, but does have a lip tie. I did as well growing up, and it didn’t seem to cause any issues, but I had it lasered when I had my wisdom teeth removed (the dentist recommended it). An update on us (2 years later!). Constipation WAS the root cause of daytime pee accidents (like you suggested, Mary) and nighttime pee accidents for my daughter. As was interoception…..just being aware of her bodily functions. Addressing the constipation and helping her become more “aware” when she had to go pee helped with the daytime accidents. What helped with the nighttime accidents was a bedwetting alarm. I was very relucantant to try, but it worked! Again, I think it was an awareness issue (brain—body connection). We are still working on the mouth breathing issue, that issue kinda got put on hold when I began working on the constipation/enuresis challenge. We are still struggling with chronic constipation, but are slowly making progress, her rectum was stretched for quite a few years, so it is a slow healing process. Once over this hurdle we will go back to working on the mouth breathing. I do have the tape and myomunchee that I need to use more regularly!
Great to hear the update, Danielle! Sounds like you are getting to the root and finding your solutions!! Way to go. If you ever want help with the nutrition/digestion I’m happy to work with you guys.
Thank you Mary for sharing the details on mouth breathing. I am glad that I found this blog post. My 5yo is also a mouth breather. We cut the dairy products and trying the multifunctional exercise at home along with myotape at times, we are not seeing much improvement. We are planning to check on the palate expansion. Is 5year too early for palate expansion, any thought?
Five is pretty young for palate expansion. There are some treatments you can do at that age (myo munchie I believe) to help guide the shape of the mouth. My daughter started when she was 7, which is young, but she lost her teeth very early.
Great and informative post. I have a 12 yr old daughter with a lot of allergies (seasonal and diet) which we are working on. She had a frenectomy and has had myofunctional therapy. Her palate is not as narrow as her sisters, so the dentist wanted to leave her teeth alone. When she goes to bed at night, she can breathe thru her nose at the beginning of the night but her mouth opens during the night and, in the morning, she is congested. She doesn’t eat the allergy foods (dairy and eggs). She has hardwood floors and an air purifier. Did your daughter have more difficulty at night then during the day? What could cause nasal congestion in the morning if there is none during the day? I am wondering if it is the nighttime mouth breathing. I was nervous about taping her mouth if she became congested overnight. I am wondering if a palate expender will give her better nasal breathing even if she is not super narrow. She bruxes heavily. Thank you in advance!
A craniosacral therapist or orthodontist would be able to advise you on wether or not exapansion is necessary. Mouth taping is pretty harmless. It actually forces you to breathe through your nose. Similar to when trying to get a stuffy baby to nurse. They keep trying and eventually the nose clears up. I would definitely give it a try. You can also do mouth exercises during the day like holding a button or paper clip between the lips to strengthen the muscles.
Thank you for the suggestions!