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How Are ADHD and Mouth Breathing Connected?

Is your child a noisy sleeper? Do they snore or grind their teeth at night? If so, they could be mouth breathing (whereas the natural way of breathing is through the nose). Mouth breathing once in a while is okay, but consistent mouth breathing in a child can cause both physical and mental development issues over time. We’re just now discovering the fascinating mouth-body connection and the role breathing plays on the body. Especially interesting are the connections between things such as ADHD and mouth breathing. Here’s an overview of mouth breathing and ADHD in children, and what to do if your child has both. 

Mouth Breathing In Children

Babies are supposed to breathe exclusively through their noses after they’re born. And, surprisingly, they don’t develop the ability to breathe through their mouth until 3-4 months old. After that time, mouth breathing is possible, but not good for the body. Mouth breathing isn’t as efficient as nasal breathing, as it brings in less oxygen to the body. If there is a situation where the nose is blocked from aspirating milk, poor swallowing, or enlarged turbinates to name a few, this can lead to early mouth breathing and it’s not healthy!  If you see a baby breathing with their lips apart, this is a red flag.

In most cases, mouth breathing is a temporary solution for a child who has blocked nasal passages from a cold or allergies. However, if mouth breathing persists over time, it can be a sign of sleep apnea, a deviated septum, tongue-tie, enlarged tonsils, sinus polyps, or even just a bad habit. Regardless of the reason, parents should keep an eye out for persistent mouth breathing to prevent health issues from occurring down the road. 

ADHD and Mouth Breathing 

One major health issue that’s recently been connected to mouth breathing is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Millions of children in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD, and the number is consistently on the rise. Scientists and health experts are continuously finding evidence that mouth breathing/sleeplessness and ADHD are interconnected more than we previously thought. 

Mouth breathing brings less oxygen to the brain compared to nasal breathing. Less oxygen, along with poor sleep from other sleep-related breathing disorders (such as sleep apnea), is a problem. One study proved that mouth breathing brings less oxygen to the brain compared to nasal breathing, which adversely affects brain function and gives rise to ADHD symptoms. It also found that, “Children with sleep-disordered breathing were from 40 to 100 percent more likely to develop neurobehavioral problems by age 7, compared with children without breathing problems.”

A kid who has trouble paying attention, sitting still, or doing poorly at school may have a lack of oxygen because of the way he or she is breathing (and sleeping). They may be acting out to stay awake throughout the day.

It’s not uncommon for a medical provider to prescribe medication for this condition, but it is rare for them to do a sleep screening or sleep test to ensure they are treating the right condition.  Many countries require a sleep test in children before these medications are given, but the United States is not one of them.  It is important to explore all reasons hyperactivity is present before jumping right to medication!

Shared Symptoms of Mouth Breathing and ADHD

Although snoring and mouth breathing are common in children, physicians don’t typically screen for sleep-related breathing disorders. When physicians do ask about the child’s sleep, however, parents should share all mouth breathing and ADHD symptoms.

ADHD and mouth breathing share some common symptoms, including: 

  • Brain fog and lack of attention to detail 
  • Waking up tired and irritable
  • Mood swings, irritability, and a quick temper
  • Problems concentrating at school
  • Crying episodes at night
  • Reduced cognitive function 
  • Inability to concentrate 

Staying attuned to your child’s health and habits will allow you to notice changes and discuss them with an airway specialist or physician.  

How to Tell If Your Child Is Mouth Breathing 

Other than watching if your child’s mouth is open when they breathe, there are other signs and symptoms that they are mouth breathing. 

When they are awake: 

  • Is their mouth open while awake and simply sitting down? 
  • Do they chew with their mouth open? 
  • When looking at a profile of their face, is their chin tilted inward (toward their body)? 
  • Are any of their teeth crooked? 
  • Do they struggle with forming certain words or sounds? 
  • Do they wake with a dry mouth? 

When they are asleep: 

  • Does your child snore or gasp for air? (Snoring is a huge indicator of a sleep-related breathing disorder)
  • Do they wet the bed? 
  • Does he or she get up frequently throughout the night?
  • Does your child grind his or her teeth?  

If your child has any of these symptoms, it’s a sign of a sleep-related breathing disorder or of mouth breathing. Taking steps to fix mouth breathing as early as possible will help ensure your child’s on the path to a healthy, happy life. 

Find the WHY

Helping your child stop mouth breathing can be done in a number of ways, depending on your child’s specific needs. It starts with an airway assessment to determine the WHY. Then, some options include myofunctional therapy to strengthen the tongue, a frenectomy to release a too-tight tongue, or other appliances to expand the mouth and airway. 

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD (or hasn’t been but has ADHD symptoms), and if you think they may breathe through their mouth, schedule a virtual consultation with Dr. Turner and we’ll help your child find rest and relief.

Need more information? Download our Parent’s Guide to a Healthy Child here.

Want to learn more about sleep and airway health? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Sleep-Related Breathing Disorders.

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