Mac Lee

Mac Lee

When healthy children are born, they breathe through their noses. Air passes freely, nonstop to the lungs. When breathing through the nose, the tongue can do its job of forming and shaping the lower face. The tongue is one of the strongest muscles in the body. It is the only muscle not attached to a bone which gives it its flexibility. It’s more like an elephant trunk than a normal muscle. It moves our food around, placing it in between powerful teeth but is always out of the way from being bit. Its complicated movements form our speech and swallow our food and liquids. It works with our nose and throat to control air passage in breathing and swallowing. This is a miraculous feat when you stop and think about it.

Most people, including health care professionals, do not understand the tongue’s most important job during the development of a child. It is the major source of facial development from birth to early adulthood. This very powerful muscle acts as a potter molding clay. Bone can be molded all of our life but it is especially easy to mold while growing. The tongue gives the palate (roof of the mouth) a flat U-shape. The flat shape gives more room for the sinuses and floor of the nose for better breathing. The upside-down U in the upper jaw also gives more room and more bone for the teeth to grow straight and strong.

If you, the reader, have children or grandchildren, please follow me in this too common, unknown problem. If children do not breathe through their noses, they breathe through their mouths. Without oxygen, we die, so the body will compensate in any way it can to be able to breathe. When breathing through the mouth, the tongue sits down low in the lower jaw. This is bad because it can’t do its job of pushing and molding the palate in the optimum U-shape. Without the tongue, the negative effect is a V-shaped palate, narrow dental arches, crooked teeth, dark circles under the eyes, protruding upper teeth, recessed lower jaw and forward head posture. Sound far out? Unfortunately, it is extremely common. Please do more research at and view a YouTube video made by my Russian dentist friend with the search title “Airway and TMJ English.” It is eye-opening.

When the tongue is sitting low, the powerful cheek muscles put pressure on the sides of the palate. With no tongue pushing back, the palate becomes narrow. Infants and children who are severely tongue-tied can also end up with a V-palate and crooked teeth. Very strong ligaments called frenum can hold the tongue down, keeping it from molding the palate. Tongue-tie also makes breastfeeding difficult and painful when an infant. Way back in time, when midwives delivered babies, they prided themselves with the ability to clip the tongue tie with a sharp, little fingernail. Unfortunately, clipping the tongue tie as an infant has become a lost art.

As a severe mouth breather or severe tongue-tied person becomes an adult, they learn to adapt to the high palate vault and crooked teeth. Over time, crooked teeth wear and break because they are not in harmony with the opposing teeth. A certain percentage have painful events like migraines, tension headaches, ear pain, and neck pain due to muscles overcompensating for the misaligned bite.

As an adult, breathing through the nose is still vitally important. The nose is the processing center for every molecule of air that enters our body. Each nose canal has three shell-like bony protuberances called turbinates. They create four different channels of airflow in each nostril. Turbinates are lined by a very special tissue that can expand or retract. Turbinates increase the surface volume of the nose with the purpose of filtering, humidifying and warming, or cooling the incoming air. Tiny hairs called cilia cover the entire lining of the nose and filter out impurities. Turbinates expand and contract during the day for reasons unknown.

Nasal breathing increases production of nitric oxide, the strongest anti-inflammatory in our body. Mouth breathing will decrease nitric oxide levels. Nitric oxide is a molecule that is extremely important for healthy circulation. It most acts as a vasodilator and is important for many aspects of health.

The purpose of this article is to educate the reader on the importance of breathing through the nose from the beginning to the end of life. My most important message is if your children, grandchildren or students constantly have their mouths open, they are not breathing correctly. They need help from both the dental and medical professions. Finding the right professionals to help can be difficult so please do your research. “They will grow out of it” is not the right answer, in my opinion. Most of the research via the internet on this subject appeared to be valid.

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Dr. Mac Lee practices in Edna. He is an international speaker and trainer to dentists. He is dedicated to educate the public about dental disease. To learn more about dentistry, visit or call 361-782-7191.

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