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Breathing, Chewing, and Physical Therapy

The average person breathes at least 20,000 times per day. Our amazing brain controls this so that we do not have to consciously think about every breath we take. This allows us to be able to focus on the things we actually want and need to do each day. We are meant to breathe primarily through our noses. When, because of postural and/or structural changes, we start shifting toward mouth breathing, we can develop many problems. Some of these issues include forward head position, difficulty sleeping, and overall breathing weakness.

As noted in this slide several things can go wrong with mouth breathing:

When working with our patients, we notice that many people develop postural faults and patterns. These asymmetrical patterns often lead to inefficient breathing. These patterns are seen in patients of all ages. This study shows that if left untreated, postural problems and inefficient breathing can lead to a multitude of issues including musculoskeletal injuries, poor sleep, high stress, and eventually structural changes in the body. These structural changes over time can present with narrow facial features, a retracted jaw, a high palate, teeth and jaw problems, and neck tension. In adults, we see the effects of chronic poor breathing with conditions like COPD and people needing CPAP machines to sleep!

A sample picture out of the book Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic by Sandra Kahn shows how, if left unaddressed over time, facial structure can significantly change.

We recently have been seeing kids who have had some of the aforementioned issues (i.e. mouth breathing and poor posture). Upon diving into possible reasons why kids could be developing these issues, we came across some interesting articles regarding the hardness of food that children are eating as well as exercises to help kids turn some of these problems around. These articles encourage parents to get their kids chewing on solid, harder foods at an earlier age. It discourages prolonged use of baby foods and readily available soft foods that kids have been so accustomed toward eating. Bite into an apple! Grab a carrot! Take some time to chew on a salad! These are good for you.

In addition to consistently chewing on harder foods and avoiding an exclusive diet of softer foods, kids can practice mouth exercises. There is a product called Myo Munchee. This little device has been shown to help with chewing and sucking habits, promote healthy teeth, gums and jaws, and although Myo Munchee is not specifically designed as a speech therapy tool, the effect it has on the muscles of the lips, tongue, and face can carry over to speech due to the direct improvement in function of these muscles.

Humans, throughout most of their existence, have needed to chew on relatively harder, solid foods as toddlers. Baby food and general softer foods have only become readily available in recent history (think: cereal and milk, soft breads, pudding, cooked vegetables).

Up to this point, toddlers worked relatively hard (in terms of effort and repetition) to eat fruits, vegetables, and meats, forcing them to exercise jaw muscles. This consistent use of jaw muscles provides for strong chewing muscles, good teeth formation and spacing, a lower palate (because the mouth is not being used to breathe), and good overall facial structure. This, in turn, allows the toddler to breathe better, sleep better, and have less overall stress (mental and physical) as they develop!

As a parent, you can get a jump on being proactive for your children. Eating harder foods, breathing through your nose, and working on chewing exercises can really help your children to avoid many musculoskeletal, sleep, breathing, and structural development problems.

If you have questions or want more information, please contact us here at ProActive PT and Performance.

Be ProActive. Prosper.

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