Snoring isn’t the only thing that childhood allergies or respiratory infections can cause. Exposure to allergens as a child can also set you on the road to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). Interference with your body’s normal breathing mechanisms can lead to developmental problems that cause lifelong problems.
Mouth Breathing Affects Development
The human body is designed to do the majority of its breathing through the nose. This is where most of the body’s warming, moisturizing, and filtering equipment is located, allowing for the healthiest breathing. But exposure to allergens can cause a problem.
The body’s irregular immune response causes swelling of the adenoids, immune glands at the back of the nasal passages. This restricts the ability to breathe through the nose, which leads to mouth breathing.
To adjust to mouth breathing, the tongue has to leave its normal rest position on the top of the mouth and rest instead on the lower teeth. This causes a problem, because the normal development of the mouth depends on the precisely balanced forces of the tongue and cheeks to define a healthy arch of teeth. With the tongue resting on the bottom of the mouth, the upper arch gets narrowed by pressure from the cheeks.
In addition, the new position of the tongue interferes with proper swallowing, as it rests atop the lower teeth. With the tongue blocking the closure of teeth during swallowing, the teeth don’t close together properly, so your front teeth, the incisors, don’t get the proper forces to keep them from emerging too much from the jaw, known as supereruption. Remember, you swallow hundreds of times a day, and each time the pressure is supposed to be helping to balance the emergence of your teeth.
The Impact of Mouth Breathing
So what do we end up with? The supereruption of your incisors creates a deformation of the lower jaw known as the bicuspid dropoff. This alters the way your teeth come together, creating irregular contacts between the jaws that can cause the jaw to move backward, dislocating the discs in the temporomandibular joints, the joints that link the lower jaw to the skull.
With your jaw driven back, your airway is even more restricted, which can cause you to hold your head at an uncomfortable angle to keep the airway open. This puts strain on the neck, leading to neck pain. The jaw is also in an uncomfortable configuration, so the muscles strain and struggle to get comfortable, grinding and scraping the teeth and causing considerable jaw pain. The extra tension in the jaw and neck contribute to tension in the head, contributing to chronic headaches.
With years of buildup, including the wear and destruction of important structures in the jaw, head, and neck, TMJ treatment is not easy. But it can be done, and when TMJ is treated, all the symptoms will diminish, and may even go away altogether.