Saturday 16 February 2019

Real Life: How clever inhaling can prevent you from ailing

Mouth breathing can lead to dental and health problems and 'ugly' faces too

All change: Nuala Deering pictured at home with son Matthew. She has seen huge improvements in him after following Patrick McKeown's techniques.
All change: Nuala Deering pictured at home with son Matthew. She has seen huge improvements in him after following Patrick McKeown's techniques.

Amanda Phelan

Sit up straight. Stop slumping. Don't leave your mouth hanging open.

These are common commands from parents or teachers. And now there's scientific evidence to show they aren't just well-meaning nagging -- good posture and breathing evenly through your nose can improve your health and even make you better looking.

What causes dental problems and longer, narrow faces? Take a breath and find out.

Breathing through your open mouth causes respiratory problems, including snoring and asthma, is bad for your teeth and can make you ugly, according to experts in the field.

In his new book, 'Buteyko Meets Dr Mew', Galway-based therapist Patrick McKeown says a growing number of people are mouth-breathing -- breathing in and out through the mouth instead of using the natural air filter of the nose, as nature intended.

This can have a negative effect on your health, stress levels and appearance, even more so than other factors such as diet.

Ideally, a person's jaw should be U-shaped, having been formed by the tongue resting on the roof of the mouth, says McKeown, a Trinity graduate who runs breathing clinics in eight countries.

People who breathe through their mouth develop smaller, narrower jaws, so the teeth cannot fit properly, causing dental overcrowding and crooked teeth, he says.

"Mouth-breathers end up with an undeveloped V-shaped jaw, and this creates a larger looking nose, smaller chin, sunken cheeks and reduced airways."

After graduating with a masters degree in business and politics, McKeown switched career paths when he learned about the Buteyko Breathing Clinic in Moscow and he is now an accredited teacher of the technique.

His new book is aimed mainly at children and teenagers, but is fun for adults, and is imaginatively illustrated with cartoon-style instructions.

Correct use of our breath can bring a range of benefits including stress reduction, less dental work, improved concentration and better looks, says McKeown.

His book is written in collaboration with London-based orthodontist John Mew, who says parents aren't given enough information on the potentially damaging impact of poor breathing.

"Few parents realise the true extent to which their child's health can be damaged," says Dr Mew.

"As a surgeon, it used to upset me to realise that just for the lack of this knowledge many attractive kids would grow up with plain faces and chronic health problems."

Dr Mew is an internationally respected oral surgeon who brings a lifetime of experience to the topic, as his work involves performing non-invasive techniques to correct the development of children's faces, jaws and teeth.

The 83-year-old says he hopes the simple techniques explained in the book -- such as the ABC game, 'Always Breathe Correctly' -- will help to bring positive changes.

Dr Mew and McKeown aren't alone in their beliefs. A recent study published in the 'General Dentistry' journal found: "Children who mouth-breathe typically do not sleep well, causing them to be tired during the day and possibly unable to concentrate on academics.

"If the child becomes frustrated in school, he or she may exhibit behavioural problems, and many of these children are misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD) and hyperactivity."

But simple changes such as regulated nasal breathing and positioning the tongue properly can bring immediate improvements that are a far better alternative to extracting teeth -- a measure that can do immense damage, says Dr Mew.

At worst, the jaw of a healthy teenager will have to be broken and reset, a procedure he says he finds heartbreaking.

McKeown says that by learning to correctly breathe through the nose, children develop well-shaped jaws, cheekbones, lips and chins, as well as healthy, straight teeth. He teaches methods developed by the late Professor Konstantin Buteyko, who died in 2003.

Buteyko studied patients' breathing in Moscow in the 1950s, and came up with the idea that many health problems, including asthma, are caused by hyperventilation and can be fixed.

The technique has sparked controversy internationally, with some critics claiming that it's quack medicine.

But McKeown, one of only a handful of accredited Buteyko practitioners in Ireland, says there's plenty of empirical evidence to show better health and looks are just a breath away.

"People breathing through their nose create a U-shaped jaw and more regular features," says the Galway father of one, who suffered from chronic asthma for 20 years and is now clear of all symptoms after correcting his breathing style.

Now McKeown runs courses across the country, teaching adults and children the art of breathing well.

"Up to 60pc of kids breathe with their mouths open," he says.

These habits have been brought about by changes in diet and lifestyle and set us apart from other mammals. "Most animal species have straight teeth," says McKeown.

Our breathing is changing because the air is more congested, and our noses are more likely to be blocked due to mucus build-up, he says. This is partly due to a shift in our traditional diet of food such as porridge and fish.

For example, dentist Weston Price says images of Irish children were shown around the world 50 years ago because they displayed strong white teeth.

Now it's a different story. A sedentary lifestyle, processed foods and increasing levels of television, computer games and lack of outdoor exercise are all leading to slack jaws and poor breathing.

The problem has grown in recent years, with asthma rates rising threefold since 1983, when between three and four per cent of the population were affected compared with 10-15pc now.

Many well-meaning parents think dust mites and pollen trigger asthma, when by unblocking the nose and breathing properly a child can avoid these triggers.

One mother of four from Stepaside in Dublin spent thousands on dental work for her children before she met McKeown and signed up to learn the Buteyko methods.

"Two of my kids have a lot of dental problems, and they're both mouth-breathers," says Nuala Deering.

Her oldest son, now in his twenties, received traditional treatment including extractions and wearing a brace for crowded and protruding teeth.

"It was hard for him because he had too many teeth at the front, and I'm sure there was teasing at school," Ms Deering says.

"He was a mouth-breather, and over time the shape of his face definitely changed, and became longer. His jaw definitely became more narrow."

By the time her youngest son, Matthew (12), was ordered to have teeth pulled by an expensive orthodontist, Ms Deering refused.

"I'd wised up," she says. "I'd met Patrick McKeown and it meant I felt better informed. I refused to let them pull my younger son's teeth out."

She says Matthew is seeing huge improvements through practising steps learned from the McKeown method.

"It's not just his teeth that are benefiting," she says.

"He's sleeping better and there are no dark circles under his eyes. And his concentration levels are picking up."

As well, he is finding sport easier, and a click in his jaw is gone since he consciously began to stop mouth breathing, she says.

"You just want to do the best for your kids, but I feel much better informed now than I did in the past when I spent thousands on dental bills, trying to do the right thing."

Her oldest son is also using McKeown's exercises and noticing positive changes. "He's finding it helps, and he's coming back from England to do one of Patrick's courses," Ms Deering says.

Matthew is seeing a new orthodondist, Dr Hugh McDermot from Louth, recommended by McKeown.

"The good news is he's not pulling out Matthew's teeth," smiles his mother.

The Deering family practise techniques taught by McKeown, who says many of us need to learn that when it comes to breathing well, less is more.

But aren't we often told that taking slow, deep breaths is good for you and calms stress?

"Yes -- people confuse breathing big with breathing deep," he says. "If you breathe through the mouth, your breathing volume is greater than your bodily requirements.

"This causes a loss of carbon dioxide that in turn causes blood vessels to constrict and reduces oxygenation of tissues and organs, including the brain.

"For example, if you take a number of big breaths through your mouth, you may feel dizzy. This is due to reduced oxygenation of the brain.

"In the same way, children and adults who sleep with their mouths open often feel tired when they wake up in the morning.

"They then feel tired during the day, and have poorer concentration. This is how rhinitis (blocked nose) is linked with sleep disturbances and ADHD."

'Buteyko Meets Dr Mew' is available in bookstores for €12.99

Patrick McKeown will be running new classes on Saturday April 16, 23 and 30. Course locations: Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Mayo. Prices: €195 for complete course. Tel: 1800 931935,

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