If you are in the middle of orthodontic treatment, like me, the quarantine has meant putting orthodontic progress on hold and postponing that long-awaited day when you get to smile without wires, ceramic, metal, or bands on your teeth. Most non-emergency medical, dental, and orthodontic appointments have been rescheduled until social distancing restrictions are lifted, and it is unclear when that will be!
But while the day when we get to be braces-free is still going to be a little further out than we would have hoped, there are still plenty of things we can do during this time to support our jaws and airways. The quarantine may even provide us more time and space to implement some of these strategies, so I encourage you to take advantage of this strange time to incorporate breathing, jaw, and airway support into your daily routine. Here are some of the things I have been implementing during the quarantine:
1. Nasal Breathing & Mouth Taping – Breathing through our noses is one of the simplest and cheapest things we can do for our health! Breathing through your nose has numerous benefits including filtering and warming air, producing nitric oxide, and maintaining proper airway and facial structure. While we can consciously ensure we are breathing through our noses during the day by becoming more aware of our breathing habits, it can be hard to control our breathing at night when we are asleep. This is why mouth taping is so wonderful! It sounds silly, but it is one of the best health strategies I have ever implemented. Simply take a piece of medical tape and fold a tiny bit over on each of the ends and place it over your lips. The folded over sides will allow you to easily remove the tape when needed. If the tape is too strong, you can also apply the tape to your hand or arm first and then to your lips, so the seal is not as tight. It may be hard to get used to if you are accustomed to breathing through your mouth at night, but if you stick with it, nasal breathing will become natural again. If you’re worried about the tape at first, you can simply tape half of your mouth so it serves as an encouragement to keep your mouth closed, but also alleviates any fear as you will still be able to breathe through your mouth if necessary.
2. Myofunctional Therapy – Myofunctional therapy is basically physical therapy for your mouth, tongue, and jaw. If you have orthodontic issues, the muscle and soft tissue around your jaw have likely not been functioning properly. Myofunctional therapy strengthens and trains these muscles. We think about working out every other part of the body, but we often forget about the most important part – our face! Working out our face, tongue, and jaw helps us breath better and helps keep teeth in proper alignment long term. Many myofunctional therapists practice virtually so even during the quarantine you may still be able to get a skype session. Check out the International Association of Orofacial Myology to find a practitioner. Once you master the exercises, you can continue doing them on your own for free.
3. Breathing Exercises – For the last few weeks, I have been following the exercises recommended by Patrick McKeown in the Oxygen Advantage and I am already noticing that my breathing is becoming calmer and softer. His book describes a simple, at-home test (the Body Oxygen Level Test or BOLT) that will allow you to measure your current breathing volume and Carbon Dioxide sensitivity, which serves as an indicator of your level of breathlessness with exercise. Once you take the BOLT test and determine your starting point, McKeown lays out exercises you can do to make your breathing more efficient and effective and to help you achieve lower levels of breathlessness with exercise. Make sure to follow his protocol and to check with your doctor before implementing any of the exercises. You can also check out his podcast here for more information about breathing exercises and the potential role of proper breathing as a first line of defense against Coronavirus.
4. Sleep – Sleep is critical for recovery, growth, and healing. Those undergoing orthodontic treatment especially need this time to heal as our teeth are shifting and our jaw bones are remodeling. If you are not currently working or if you are working remotely, take advantage of the opportunity to catch up on sleep. If you have flexibility in your telework schedule, try to get to bed at the same time every night and don’t set an alarm so that your body naturally wakes up in the morning when it is ready. I have been getting a solid 9+ hours of sleep every day and it is making such a difference!
5. Nutritional Support – Do you ever wondering why some children need braces and others develop wide jaws with enough space for all their teeth? Nutritional status in the womb and in early childhood is now known to be a key factor! Humans should have enough space for all the teeth we are born with. We can give our bodies the nutrients we need to develop strong bones and soft tissue by eliminating processed foods and sugar and incorporating nutrient dense, properly prepared foods.
While these are important ways to keep your orthodontic progress going during the quarantine, implementing these strategies will also help your orthodontics “stick” long term! People often wonder why their teeth become crowded and crooked again years after their orthodontic treatment if they don’t continue to wear a retainer. While orthodontics can help us fix the structural issues, we need to support the underlying root causes of dental crowding for lasting results. Proper nasal breathing, strong jaw and facial muscles, and a nutrient-dense food diet that meets our bio-individual needs will keep your smile beautiful for the long-run once your braces are off!
Leigh Cameron is a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner through the Nutritional Therapy Association. She is passionate about the connection between nutrition, dental & orthodontic wellness, & overall health.
This blog is for educational purposes only and is not personal medical advice. Please consult with your doctor before implementing any strategies discussed here.