What is Airway Orthodontics?

Breathing. Something COVID-19 has brought to our attention in the blink of an eye.

Who feels confident about breathing in recent months? The truth is – we are all struggling just a bit (some more than others), spending our days with masks on and literally straining to inhale and exhale comfortably. Imagine how our children feel, tossing and turning at night, worried about the unknown.

To be honest, partial or complete upper airway obstruction while sleeping is something that has been around for an awfully long time. It is also known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and it occurred in approximately 5% of children until the recent pandemic where it is becoming more and more prominent.


Attention to breathing and how it affects our health is long overdue.

Breathing disorders are connected with an elevated risk for severe medical health problems and should be treated now, but early prevention goes a long way toward saving much pain, time and money. Airway orthodontics helps to identify a child who is experiencing cessation of breathing while they sleep, in the hopes of eliminating obstacles such and behavioural and learning problems, heart disease, stunted growth, failure to thrive, asthma, attention deficit disorder, anxiety and hypertension, among other health problems.

Within each breath that you take, there are more molecules of air than you can even fathom. In fact, how we take in that air and let it out is more important than anyone even imagines. We do not even think about breathing, we just do it. But, did you know that learning to breathe properly will assist us in our quest to live long, healthy, happy lives? In contrast, poor breathing can create and also aggravate many chronic diseases in both adults and children. Not breathing correctly can even weaken our bones and change our physical structure.

Airway Orthodontics is a complex approach to assisting with the complete sum of your health – not just your teeth. We work with you and/or your child to improve your overall health, focusing on the relationship between your body’s ample intake of oxygen and complete orthodontic treatment of your facial structure, teeth, jaw and mouth.


Signs and Symptoms to Watch for in Children

  • Laboured Breathing/ Snoring
  • Difficulty in School
  • Bed Wetting
  • Ear/Sinus Infections
  • Restless Sleeping
  • Obesity
  • Nightmares/Night Terrors
  • Aggressive Behavior
  • Mouth Breathing/Snoring
  • Difficulty with Social Relationships
  • Moodiness
  • Impulsivity
  • Lethargy
  • Daytime Tiredness
  • Short Attention Span
  • Overlapping Incisors
  • Chronic Allergies
  • Hyperactivity
  • Stunted Growth
  • Swollen Tonsils
  • Narrow Jaw
  • High Palate
  • Enlarge Adenoids


Possible Complications of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

  • Congestive Heart Failure (heart enlargement)
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Facial and Jaw Deformities
  • Lung Disease
  • Growth Hormone Deficiency
  • Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
  • Diminished Mental Capacity

The good news is, we can improve airways (and our overall health) by breathing properly. Research has shown that the best indicator of lifespan is not diet, exercise, or genetics but rather lung capacity. The bigger the lungs, the longer our lives can be because large healthy lungs permit us to breathe in more air in fewer breaths. Try this breathing exercise to help with healthy breathing:


Inhale lightly through your nose, count to 5 and exhale slowly through your nose. Do this for several minutes.


Breathing like this will protect your lungs from infection and irritation and will boost circulation to your body and brain. Stress relief breathing techniques will relax the heart, and the nervous system and respiratory system will move into a state of consistency where everything functions better. Yoga classes are great for adults and children alike to learn breathing techniques which will also help with normalizing blood pressure.


"When the breath is unsteady, all is unsteady; when the breath is still; all is still. Control the breath carefully. Inhalation gives strength and a controlled body; retention gives steadiness of mind and longevity; exhalation purifies body and spirit."



Benefits of Airway Orthodontics

  • Prevention – Airway orthodontics helps in preventing flawed facial growth, crooked teeth and disrupted sleep. Early prevention can thwart issues that change our entire body and health, particularly those issues that disturb normal cognitive development in children.
  • Facial Growth – Our teeth, appearance and breathing passages can be affected by the simple shape of our face. Children receive the benefit of health and aesthetics and most adults can benefit also.
  • Health – Airway orthodontics is not just about treating the symptoms but rather finding the cause of the symptom and treating it effectively. Inadequate airways can be altered with a change in head posture, which changes the entire body posture, resulting in maintained balance. Gentle orthodontic techniques are used to return you to normal airway breathing.

Controlling bad breathing habits can help with symptoms of depression, anxiety and other disorders including health-related problems. Mouth breathing has also been connected to neurological disorders, periodontal disease and increased risk of respiratory infection.


Symptoms We Treat

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  • Mouth Breathing
  • Orthodontic Relapse
  • Tongue Ties
  • TMJ Issues
  • Crooked Teeth
  • Forward Head Posture
  • Abnormal Facial Growth/Development
  • Misdiagnosed ADHD


“For breath is life, so if you breathe well you will live long on earth.”
-Sanskrit Proverb


While a great smile is an awesome goal, it should not be your only goal for orthodontic treatment. It can and is your child’s best opportunity for a long, healthy pain-free life. Give them the benefit of introspective, in-depth analysis of their (or your) breathing functions so we can plan for the best treatment. Airway orthodontics can improve overall body wellness and brain function. With COVID-19 at the forefront of our daily living, along with masks, breathing problems and stress, modern medicine is fully equipped with the wisdom of the past and it is called Airway orthodontics. The remedy is literally right under our noses.


A Look Into Breathing, Sleep and Airway Orthodontics

When was the last time you thought about your child’s breathing habits?

I would venture to say very recently with COVID-19 and the wearing of masks at the forefront of our daily living. Breathing provides the oxygen to our blood that stimulates every single cell in our children’s bodies, and their brains consume 20% of that oxygen. Did you know that even minor disruptions in your child’s breathing can have a significant (negative) impact on their function, health, and behaviour?

For most, breathing happens automatically and unobstructed, without any effort.

Unfortunately, in the midst of a pandemic, children are wearing masks, feeling stressed and not sleeping as well as they used to. Proper breathing is regularly taken for granted, particularly at night—when they are sound asleep, and you assume they are breathing peacefully. Our children spend approximately ½ of their lives asleep and how they breathe during that time has considerable repercussions for their quality of living during the other 2/3 of their awake time.

How your child breathes while they sleep is especially important throughout their years of development. Many disorders can arise from compromised airway function. Sleep-disorder breathing can lead to decreased oxygenation of the brain, and a lack of essential sleeping hours is crucial to optimum awake functioning.


While most of the time snoring is thought of as something adults do, periodic snoring in children also can occur.

Typically, this is not anything to be concerned about. But, frequent snoring in children, aside from colds, sickness or during allergy season could be cause for alarm.

Frequent snoring and constant mouth-breathing in children is not normal and could imply that your child has a small airway, leaving them with a higher potential for sleep apnea as an adult. Research has indicated that children with breathing issues are susceptible to a multitude of adverse effects on their body and brain development. Just some of those effects include ADHD, chronic headaches, bedwetting, and poor performance in school.


There are ways that you can help to assess whether or not your child could have a suspected breathing issue during sleep. Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer “yes” to any, it would not be a bad idea to investigate further.

  • Does my child snore frequently?
  • Does my child usually sleep through the night, awaken sleepy or tire easily?
  • Does my child sound “nasally” when speaking?
  • Does my child have problems focusing in school?
  • Does my child grind his/her teeth?
  • Does my child get frequent headaches?

Limiting daily screen time can help prevent “tech neck.” Tech neck can further compromise a blocked airway. Fostering better sleep habits is also vital.


The capability of your child to breathe easily and silently through their nose with their tongue suctioned up to the roof of the mouth and their lips closed softly is crucial to optimum craniofacial growth and development.

As part of an orthodontic check-up, the doctor will look at the airway and ask the parent(s) questions about their child’s sleep habits. Your child’s smile, jaw development and tooth eruption are all affected by the way they breathe.

If your child sees the orthodontist early enough (whether they need braces or not), they can be properly evaluated and the doctor can suggest an approach, if needed, to help your child learn to breathe better and reduce any negative effects on their growth and daily living.

While there are some pediatricians who may be able to recognize breathing issues, most generally are not as sensitive to the nature of your child’s airways on the overall growth of their jaws. Your orthodontist is better able to assess your child individually and change the structure of the jaw, assisting with changing your child’s airway. Orthodontists are the specialists in this area!

At this point, you are probably wondering what all of this has to do with orthodontics?


Fostering Good Sleep Habits

  1. Start Your Children Young
    From infant to toddler, there are numerous books with healthy sleeping pattern themes. Use early literacy to help your children connect to the importance of sleep.
  2. Talk To Your Children
    As parents, we constantly talk to our children about nutrition. Do the same on the subjects of breathing and sleeping. Help them to understand the necessity of fueling their body and
    brain for the next day.
  3. Model Healthy Habits
    Children learn from their parents. Model healthy sleep practices and watch them follow your lead. 
  4. Make Good Choices
    When teaching your children to make better choices, give them the choice of where they would like to put their electronics “to sleep” for the night. Give them other sleep options such as which pajamas they would like to wear, and what story they would like to read to wind down. Empowering your children to make good decisions prior to bedtime starts them off early on good sleep practices.

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”
-Benjamin Franklin


Breathing Problems Are Often Related To Small Upper Jaws

Visiting with your orthodontist for assistance in making the jaw size “normal” when your child is young has lots of advantages.

  • Children are much more resilient than we are as adults. Therefore, the procedure is easy and painless for them. Their bones are really soft when young, so there is not much discomfort.
  • Most problems associated with poor breathing during sleep could improve simply by fixing the size of the jaw.
  • If the child’s jaw is small to begin with and resizing does not fix the breathing problem, at the very least, their jaw will now be the right size to allow for the adult teeth to come in better. The hope, though, is that there will be room for the teeth AND the breathing issues will also be eliminated. It is a win/ win for both the child and the parents.

Will airway orthodontics solve every breathing/sleeping issue? No. Irrespective, correcting the jaw structure early will show what effect the small jaws have (or do not have) on breathing and will ultimately help the child’s medical team better focus their efforts on what issues may remain.

Your orthodontist has the knowledge and the tools to help evaluate and treat children with suspected breathing/sleeping issues. They will work closely with your child’s pediatrician to deliver a thorough resolution. By waiting for your child to “outgrow” the issue, it is often too late to undo any child-development issues that may have arisen due to poor breathing.

Orthodontists are excited by the fact that they can help to improve the development of your child’s jaw and airways to prevent and correct many problems. As a parent, you always have the choice of how you proceed with your child’s care. As you consider your options and educate yourself, remember that your orthodontist wants to provide your child (and you!) with the best opportunities to have a healthy mouth and many functional awake and sleeping hours!