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Most people are unaware of the effects mouth breathing has on orthodontic treatment until after they get their teeth straightened or realigned. Whether they have received braces or Invisalign aligner treatment, a relapse usually occurs to some degree, even after a 100% successful realignment. In the event of a relapse – where the straightened teeth start to gradually shift back towards their original positions – retainers may need to be worn temporarily to allow supportive gum tissue more time to strengthen and stabilise realigned teeth. However, there is another potential risk factor that may be constantly forcing realigned teeth to shift back – how you breathe and your tongue posture.

The tongue – nature’s perfect retainer for straight teeth

Long before the availability of braces or aligner treatments to straighten teeth, nature provided the perfect “retainer” to ensure that your teeth develop and erupt evenly – your tongue. In opposition to the inward forces exerted by the cheek muscles (buccinators), your tongue provides an opposing lateral force that pushes the teeth out. When both forces are equally balanced at approximately 500 gm and your dental arches are well developed, your primary teeth should erupt evenly in all their proper positions during childhood.

How mouth breathing causes straightened teeth to shift back

If you are a mouth-breather – as opposed to a nasal-breather – your bottom jaw sits lower which results in low tongue posture. This leaves your upper jaw (maxilla) without the support and outward force required to counteract the cheek muscles’ inward forces. Without this counterbalancing effect, the inward force exertion causes the arches to narrow during development thus creating a narrow arch, less space for erupting teeth and misaligned or crowded teeth as a result. Now, when you jump forward in time to the teen or adult that has received orthodontic treatment, it is important to understand the very same oral forces that have caused teeth misalignment issues during development are probably still in play after treatment. 

Orthotropic treatment can help minimise the need for retainers

While orthodontic treatment such as braces and aligners focuses on straightening teeth, orthotropic treatment focuses on rectifying breathing and postural habits that cause teeth to misalign in the first place. When children and teens receive orthotropic treatment, adopting new mouth and tongue postural habits can improve their oral development. This can result in better teeth alignment all the way into adulthood. However, just because you’re an adult receiving orthodontic treatment, it doesn’t mean you’ve missed out on all the benefits of orthotropics. By simply ensuring that you breathe through your nose, keep your mouth closed and position your tongue correctly on the palate of the mouth, you can help minimise the forces acting against your newly positioned and straightened teeth. This allows supportive ligaments to strengthen and stabilise teeth in their sockets sooner rather than later – and less time spent wearing retainers!