There I was, happily breathing on my CPAP at night for the most part. Sure it would fall off sometimes and I would have nights where I would lose sleep. But all that didn’t matter when I initially saw what a huge improvement it was. I couldn’t believe it.
Well, then we realized that my daughter at five was snoring at night, and we looked into it. Parents: if you have kids that snore every night are also mouth breathers, it is NOT normal. It is not something they will just grow out of. You – yes, you – need to get it checked out. They will grow into it being worse not out of it. A sleep study for my oldest showed apnea, and for a kid that can mean long term lack of sleep as their brains are developing.
My wife by trade, before staying at home with the kids, is a speech-language pathologist (SLP). She used her network to do some digging and research which frankly wasn’t easy to come by. Many pediatric developmental specialists do not have a deep understanding of these issues. Hearing that a child snores or mouth breathes often does not set off red alarm bells about how your child’s development may be significantly impacted by them. But through a consultation with another SLP, Heather Vukelich, we found orthodontic airway specialist, Dr. Brian Hockel.
When you meet Dr. Hockel and talk to him about airway, it’s clear his depth of understanding and knowledge goes way beyond taking a few nasal sprays and seeing if the snoring goes away. He will evaluate and discuss things that regular dentists will never tell you. “How is the profile of the face changing? Due to mouth breathing, it’s causing long term stretching of the face and results in a high, narrow palate. Notice the gummy smile? That’s not normal. Mouth breathing causes the jaw to grow retracted into the airway. And this makes it so that there’s no room in the mouth, which will obstruct your throat.” So, after her initial consult we decided to review the other two kids and myself.
My oldest at just five definitely showed that long term mouth breathing had affected her facial development. If she did not fix this now with his recommendation of orthotropics (think orthodontia focused on airway and facial development, especially pulling the jaw forward), she would eventually end up like me. In kids, the bones and palate can still shift. In adults, our bones and palate are already fused and we can’t use orthotropics to fix it. She had a huge amount of mouth breathing as if the nose just did not function, like she always had a cold.
The middle kid was on the fence. Definitely had a gummy smile. Definitely was mouth breathing all the time. A consideration for future orthotropics.
The third kid was snoring too at a year old. We took a vacation where we were sleeping next to him later in a bed to realize that, man, he moves a lot…. like every 10 minutes, and that was definitely apnea. He was waking up so he can breathe and was moving around in the process, but was way too young for orthotropics.
On Dr. Hockel’s advice we started looking into ENTs. We worked with a really wonderful doctor, Dr. Margaret Carter, and evaluated all three of them. Turns out, all three kids had huge adenoids, a gland behind your nose that helps trap bacteria. It actually shrinks when you get older. However, it turns out that I also had abnormally large adenoids for an adult. Her belief was they all got it from me. Nonetheless, those adenoids all had to come out to have any chance of nose breathing.
So we began the process of removing all of our children’s adenoids, starting with the oldest, and noticed that after a week of healing, the snoring just stopped. We did the middle kid next. Big improvement, but we needed to work on his seasonal allergies to get his nose breathing better.
Finally, we did the last kid because he was still a baby so it was a bit more emotional. But afterwards? Perfect nose breathing and resting facial posture. He was the only one of our kids who has it like this because we caught it so early.
In short, with the same potential risk of long term mouth breathing, what I learned from correcting it at different ages is this:
- Mouth breathing is absolutely not normal
- It can cause sleep apnea which is a huge hinderance for proper development
- If you catch it earlier you will have potentially less treatments required to fix it
- If you wait too long, their facial structures may fuse. Then correcting it may require surgery like me.