Do you bite your lips? Need to munch your pencil ends to concentrate? Are there chew marks on your pen, or the ends of your sunglasses? Are the insides of your cheeks starting to shred? Has your child developed a thumb-sucking habit? You need to read this!
Freud or Fraught?
Oral fixations are those funny little urges that make us want to bite, chew or suck something. The nicer psychologists say we are “self soothing”, and the Freudians insist we are orally fixated because we came off the breast too soon. They tell us that oral fixation include other oral habits like smoking cigarettes, biting nails or chewing hair. Either way, this is an indication that we need to get a handle on how we breathe, as well as seeking help if necessary to deal with any stress that may trigger this behaviour – especially if the nail chewing is becoming painful or obsessive. But for most people, such habits like pencil chewing or hair munching are simply that – habits, and so they do not give them too much thought. Usually considered irritating little afflictions, Breathing and Health practitioners realize these annoying little habits could be sabotaging your health in ways you had never considered.
What’s Pen End Munching Got to Do with Breathing?
If left unchecked, these issues can sometimes develop into disorders which can impact your airway and your breathing. The facial structures are impacted by how we use them, and muscles waste or develop according to use patterns.
Muscles and bones develop under pressure, and when these pressures are incorrect, because the mouth is constantly chewing or open, this can cause incorrect facial development and location of bones and joints. The jaw is often negatively affected by aberrant oral habits, and this causes problems in the temporal-mandibular joint (TMJ). But other problems can also arise – such as how the tongue rests in the mouth and how the jaw locates and where the teeth connect. All these small connections provide the correct pressures and neurofeedback for growth and development.
So what this means (in English) is that:
- the tongue needs to be in a certain place in the mouth to put sufficient pressure on the upper jaw to encourage the teeth to be correctly spaced.
- It also means that the lips need to seal over the front teeth to exert a tiny amount of continual pressure – which allows the upper and lower teeth and jaws to straighten and widen.
- The lower jaw needs to be closed at rest so that the teeth connect – to encourage the correct pressure on the teeth for optimum development and growth,
- and it also needs to be closed so that the tongue can locate in the roof of the mouth in order to exert the correct pressure in that area to widen the upper palate – and thus – widen the upper airway.
All these aids to development are lost when the mouth is constantly open or occupied by the end of your sunglasses, your key ring or other random stuff. These oral fixations in children can results in skew teeth, high arched palate and upper airway issues, which can lead to sinus problems, tonsils, asthma, sleep apnoea, and concentration issues.
“Buck Teeth” and “Thumbsuckers”
When we tell little kids to stop sucking their thumb, it is because we know that it causes “buck teeth” in adulthood. Why? Because the adult teeth begin to develop around the pressure exerted by the thumb and the lips that are always open – instead of the pressure exerted by the tongue in the roof of the mouth and the lips most often sealed. If you sucked your thumb as a kid, chances are you have struggled with airway issues, allergies, snoring, sleeping and / or dental problems – and sometimes these issues have continued throughout childhood and you may still struggle with these issues as an adult, even if you have had orthodontic treatment. Oftentimes, there is still work to be done as a mature adult to correct breathing behaviour that was induced during childhood.
Oral Habits Encourage Mouth Breathing:
Having a constantly open mouth means you are more likely to breathe through it. Mouth breathing leads to other oral issues like dry mouth, bad breath, chronically infected tonsils, chronically blocked nose, sinus issues, hayfever, allergies, sneezing fits, coughing fits, gastric reflux, wind, bloating, anxiety, insomnia, dehydration and also causes breathing to become unbalanced. Unbalanced breathing leads to unbalanced breathing gases, and this means that there is less oxygen reaching your tissues and your brain. Less oxygen means more illness and less energy…and impairs every single function of your body because you cannot survive without oxygen for more than a few minutes. Which is why mouth breathing and disordered breathing is really a bad habit that you should seek professional help to overcome.
Blocked Nose and Mouth Breathing:
Sometimes people cannot breathe nasally without help. Buteyko exercises are a great tool for unblocking the nose and keeping it clear. This forms the first and most important part of any Buteyko instruction as all humans have evolved to breathe nasally. Without the correct and optimal nasal breathing, humans (and all other mammals) have limited success with health and maintaining immunity so that we do have allergic reactive responses. Many people who have had broken noses or nasal polyps and surgeries have managed to achieve a clear nose using Buteyko techniques that help to keep the nose clear. Once nasal breathing is correctly re-established the person can go on to further improve breathing behaviour using more in depth Buteyko practices.
I Never Breathe Through My Mouth:
If I had a dollar for every time I heard that line, I would be a rich person today. Even if you keep your mouth closed at rest, you can still be mouth breathing at other times. If you laugh, cough, speak, eat, sleep and exercise, you are likely to be breathing incorrectly at the same time. The second we enter any stressful situation, our breathing changes. Breathing more air is a normal stress response. Mouth breathing is just one way to breathe more air without noticing. Most people mouth breathe at rest when they are unaware. Take a look around you right now: your colleagues, family members, friends and even strangers are mostly unconsciously mouth breathing as you read this. Maybe even you.
It’s A Habit:
Most people have no idea they do not maintain nasal breathing continuously, and most of our clients are embarrassed to admit they mouth-breathe more than they realized. But because of neuroplasticity and adaptation, mouth breathing can become a hidden behaviour that you resort to as soon as you are not noticing your breathing any more. Because breathing behaviour is constantly changing and adapting to your environment, your diet, your stress and your levels of activity, it is not something you can actually be aware of all the time. This is because no one is completely aware of their breathing 24/7 – unless that is all they are doing that day. That’s why seeking professional help with overcoming the behavioural aspects of breathing can be the best thing you ever do for your health.
It’s How you Breathe:
Every single person breathes differently. Every single person has their own set of circumstances to overcome. Every single person with a breathing problem has disordered breathing patterns. But many people do not understand that often you can have a breathing problem without knowing it. Most people have no idea how their uncontrollable high blood pressure, chronic anxiety, severe dental issues or crippling spasmodic IBS can be directly linked to their chronic nail biting or pencil chewing.
Training yourself into Illness?
Most people are unconsciously training themselves into a chronic disease, because of neuroplasticity cementing these “self-soothing” behaviours as a way to address our unconscious stress reactions. And because these oral fixations encourage improper resting postures and open mouthed breathing, they may be training themselves into a breathing problem that could actually exacerbate the health difficulties they struggle with daily. Understanding breathing is so crucial for overcoming chronic health issues because there are so many ways you can sabotage your healing process by engaging in breathing practices that could hinder rather than help you.
The Deep Breathing Panacea:
Some people have some awareness of breathing “therapies’, and then seek a “one size fits all” approach to managing and correcting the problem. This is because most people are under the mistaken impression that more breathing = more oxygen or, conversely, that long breath-holds are very good for you. Both of these assumptions are the current thinking espoused by the media, and both of these assumptions are wrong, because they simply “cherry-pick” ideas from deep; lifetime practices like yoga or Buteyko, in order to condense them into a sound-byte that can be assimilated for general consumption. In all things that have sustainable outcomes, there is a Process, which is also a Journey.
Expect Unique Attention from your Health Provider:
Thus, expecting everyone to have the same breathing patterns is like expecting everyone to have the same stride length or sitting posture. It discounts the fact that you are a living breathing human with your own set of unique circumstances. That is why actually seeing a face to face practitioner is invaluable, because they will assess all aspects of your breathing – even those which you have not noticed and would never have considered as “problematic” – like your oral resting posture, your speech patterns, or whether you sigh or hold your breath often.
Buteyko Programs help you to connect with YOUR breathing behaviour. And only once you have true awareness of what you do, when you do it, and HOW you do it, are you actually empowered to change it. Breathing is no different.