Our bodies are physiologically designed for nose breathing. When we’re breathing through our nose, all the developmental forces are balanced. Unfortunately, many of us breathed through our mouth when sleeping as children and teens, which unbalanced the forces of development, leading to tooth and jaw deformations that contribute to TMJ.

What Causes Mouth Breathing

If our bodies are designed for breathing through the nose, how do we start breathing through the mouth, anyway?

The culprit is typically allergies or airborne irritants. This includes pollen, dust, and chemicals that contribute to poor indoor air quality. However, the problem can also be minor food allergies, which may not produce many visible symptoms, but can lead to an inflammatory (swelling) response.

Mouth breathing can lead to TMJ

Among the tissues that are most susceptible to swelling in response to these irritants are the tonsils and adenoids. The tonsils are located on either side of your throat at the back of your mouth and can be seen if you look in the mirror. The adenoids can’t be seen, they’re located in the back of your nose, just above where the nasal passage joins with the mouth at the top of the throat.

Adenoids and tonsils are part of your immune system–they release proteins that help regulate your immune system, and they are also designed to stop bacteria and contaminants from entering the body. When the tonsils and adenoids swell up, they can restrict or even block airflow through the nose, leading to mouth breathing.

The Effect of Mouth Breathing on the Upper Arch

Normally, your tongue rests against the top of your mouth. This helps balance the development of your upper arch. Your cheeks push inwards and your tongue pushes outward to create a balance of forces that develops a proper u-shaped arch.

But to enable mouth breathing, the tongue moves away from the roof of the mouth. This means the pressure of the cheeks can crowd the upper teeth into a v-shaped arch.

Lateral Tongue Thrust and Bicuspid Dropoff

When your tongue is constantly down at the bottom of the mouth, it can interfere with your swallowing function. Normally when swallowing your tongue should be on the top of the mouth, and the jaw should close to anchor the swallowing muscles. But if you are breathing through your mouth, your tongue will often remain on the bottom of the mouth. It can even rest up on top of the teeth. This suppresses the emergence of the lower teeth.

Meanwhile, spending so much time with your mouth open allows extra space for the front teeth to over-erupt. The disparity between the overerupted front teeth and the suppressed back teeth causes a disparity known as the bicuspid dropoff.

The Bicuspid Dropoff and Jaw Position

Once you have this disparity between the front teeth and the rear teeth, your jaw will have difficulty closing together in a natural position that is healthy for your jaw.

In order for your jaw to close, your lower jaw must slide up and behind your upper jaw. This forces your jaw backward, and the bony part of the mandible in the temporomandibular joint, the condyle, moves back to rub against the temporal socket. The cushioning disc that is supposed to protect the condyle from abrasive forces, is forced forward out of place.

As the jaw moves, the cushioning disc will move in and out of place, which is what causes the clicking noise as you open and close your mouth.

How Poor Jaw Position Leads to TMJ Symptoms

Once your jaw is out of position, you can begin to suffer TMJ symptoms. You might feel pain in the jaw joint (although many don’t until serious degeneration has occurred). Because the jaw isn’t where it’s supposed to be, you may also feel sore jaw muscles. When your jaw muscles are tense and spasming, they can contribute to similar tension in other muscles in the head and neck, leading to headaches and neck pain.

You might find yourself clenching and grinding your jaw, which can lead to worn and damaged teeth. As the teeth are damaged, the jaw might shift even further back.

The pressure of the condyle against the temporal bone (where the ear is housed) or pressure on nerves carrying signals from the ear to the brain can contribute to tinnitus and vertigo.

Finally, as the jaw has shifted backward, it can be hard to breathe even through the mouth, especially when sleeping, which leads to snoring and sleep apnea.

Restore Jaw Position and Health

If you are experiencing TMJ symptoms, it’s vital to restore your jaw to its proper position.This can be done using a bite splint that puts your jaw in a restful position. You can also consider reconstructive dentistry that will rebuild your bite so that it naturally holds your jaw in a restful position.

To learn how TMJ treatment in River Edge can help restore your airway and eliminate your symptoms, please call 201-546-8512 today for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at the River Edge Dental Center for TMJ, Sleep Apnea, & Reconstructive Dentistry.