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We invite you to get informed and advocate for you or your child's airway health.

Airway Anatomy

The tongue

The tongue is an important factor in the formation of the nasal airway space.  The position that it keeps in the mouth is  highly important.  The tongue should rest up at the palate with a light suction.  Throughout childhood this rest position guides the formation of the palate ideally into a broad U-shape.  If an individual has a tongue restriction (anterior or posterior tongue tie), or low tongue posture,  this can compromise the formation of the nasal cavity. A low tongue posture from a functional limitation of the tongue or from mouth breathing or both, will result in a V-shaped, high palatal arch form.  The resulting nasal cavity is constricted based on these anatomical limitations.  Often, a deviated septum will accompany a V-shaped palate in an adult. 

The nose

The nose is a complex organ specifically designed for processing the air we breathe by filtering allergens and bacteria while adjusting the air to the correct temperature and humidity for an efficient transfer to our lungs.  Additionally, the super molecule nitric oxide (NO) is stimulated to be released by passing air.  NO functions in every organ of our body.  Notably, nitric oxide has a role in the immune response as well as in dilating blood vessels to improve blood flow and decrease blood pressure.  NO enhances memory and learning, influences secretion of hormones, acts as a signaling molecule, enables erectile function, regulates bladder function and more.  

Tonsils and Adenoids

The tonsils and adenoids are part of the immune system and help protect the body from disease. Unfortunately, if they get too large, they can cause ear infections or worse, affect breathing and contribute to apnea.  Swollen adenoids contribute to ear infections and mouth breathing.  Mouth breathing can lead to enlarged tonsils. Swollen adenoids and tonsils compromise and constrict the airway space.  This constriction can cause apnea (episodes of no breathing). When tonsils and adenoids are removed, it is still imperative to correct the conditions that led to the enlargement to prevent sleep disordered breathing recurrence later in life. This can be accomplished with myofunctional therapy and orthodontic treatment to facilitate proper arch growth.

Teeth and Arch

A clue to a compromised airway can easily be identified by a dentist.  Narrowed and constricted arches and tooth crowding are often a sign that the nasal cavity is compromised as well as a sign of a low tongue rest position. The relevance of a narrow or constricted arch is limited space for the tongue in the mouth.  With limited space, the tongue drops back into the airway compromising airflow and potentially leading to conditions related to sleep disordered breathing. 

Lips

The lips serve in the articulation of sound and speech. They are the visible part of the mouth.  The lips function in promoting nasal breathing if they are able to perform a lip seal without strain.  In some individuals, the lip seal can be compromised due to an excessive and/or restrictive labial frenum.  The frenum can restrict the upper lip as well as cause tooth separation between the two central teeth and/or can contribute to recession. 

The Role of Saliva

Mouth breathing can lead to a dry mouth.  It is important to maintain saliva to take advantage of its many functions.  Aside from contributing to taste, chewing and swallowing, saliva fights germs in the mouth and prevents bad breath. It also has components that protect tooth enamel and prevent tooth decay and gum disease. There is a link between mouth breathing and periodontal disease.  Gingivitis and periodontitis will not resolve if an individual habitually mouth breaths.