ADHD, Breathing, and Eating: Any Connection?


The Connection Between Oral Motor Issues, Mouth Breathing, and ADHD

Oral motor issues that affect feeding often also affect feeding, attention and ADHD symptoms, and sometimes speech as well! In a perfect world, when we are not speaking or eating, we breath through our nose alone, mouth closed! When this doesn’t happen, we say that a person is a mouth breather, meaning they have an open mouth posture at rest and this can happen during the day or a night, or both!

The Impact of Mouth Breathing on Focus and Attention

Scientists are discovering that there’s a link between mouth breathing and one’s ability to focus and pay attention along with a host of other things! Why? Well, mouth breathing brings less oxygen to your brain and we know we need oxygen to do anything well. Nasal breathing is significantly more beneficial to the body and mouth breathing is quite harmful actually. 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, or sinus polyps. It can also lead to ADHD symptoms in adults and children.

Although snoring and mouth breathing are common now in children, physicians don’t usually screen for sleep-related breathing disorders. Parents should share ALL symptoms with their child’s doctor at their next appointment.

Overlapping Symptoms of ADHD and Mouth Breathing

ADHD and mouth breathing share some common symptoms, including:

  • Brain fog
  • Lack of attention to detail
  • Irritability upon waking
  • Mood swings
  • Problems concentrating
  • Crying episodes at night (not always)
  • Inability to concentrate

How to Tell If Your Child Is Mouth Breathing

When they are awake:

  • Is their mouth open while awake and doing something that doesn’t require talking (like watching tv, coloring, etc)?
  • Do they chew with their mouth open?
  • When looking at a profile of their face (side view), is their chin recessed or jutting out?
  • Are any of their teeth crooked?
  • Do they struggle with making certain sounds?
  • Do they wake with a dry mouth?
  • Does the pillow have drool in the morning?

When they are asleep:

  • Does your child snore or have audible breathing? (Snoring is a huge indicator of a sleep-related breathing disorder)
  • Do they wet the bed?
  • Does your child wake up frequently throughout the night?
  • Does your child move around a lot during the night?
  • Does your child grind his or her teeth?

Why is ADHD and Mouth Breathing Connected?

Mouth breathing brings less oxygen to the brain compared to nasal breathing. Less oxygen, along with poor sleep creates a perfect storm for an unfocused day. 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.” In many countries, a sleep test is required for children before prescribing ADHD medications, but this is not common practice in the United States. It is crucial to explore all underlying causes of attention disorders before starting medication that may have side effects.

It’s not uncommon for a medical provider to prescribe medication for this condition, but it is not also a condition that warrants medication. It requires a closed mouth!  It is important to explore all reasons for attention disorders before starting medication that may cause other effects.

Why is Mouth Breathing and Feeding Connected?

Mouth breathing occurs when the jaw is low, often causing the tongue to also be out of position. When the tongue and jaw do not function properly, it indicates weakness, potential restrictions (such as tongue-tie), and instability. Poor oral motor skills mean difficulty moving food around in the mouth, which can create a negative eating experience. This may lead children to limit their diet to a minimal number of ‘safe’ foods.

What’s The Solution?

Addressing mouth breathing in children involves a comprehensive assessment of the airway and oral motor function. Possible solutions include:

  • Myofunctional Therapy: This therapy strengthens the tongue and improves its function.
  • Frenectomy: This procedure releases a too-tight tongue (tongue-tie).
  • Orthodontic Appliances: These devices can expand the mouth and airway to facilitate proper breathing.

Parents should ensure their child’s physician is aware of all symptoms to screen for potential sleep-related breathing disorders. Early intervention can significantly improve a child’s overall health, cognitive function, and quality of life.

Understanding the interconnectedness of mouth breathing, oral motor issues, and ADHD symptoms is crucial for addressing these problems effectively. Proper diagnosis and targeted therapies can make a significant difference in a child’s development and day-to-day functioning. If you suspect your child is a mouth breather, seek a professional assessment to determine the appropriate interventions.

Give us a call today to learn how we can help and assist with this! 516-669-0434. We are here to help guide you and your child towards better health and well-being.


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