Breathing is one of the most vital functions of the body and the greatest pleasure in life. Each breath has a positive or negative effect on our bodies, depending on what way it’s performed. Normal breathing or a breathing pattern that has a positive effect on our bodies is through the nose. However, breathing through the mouth rather than nose can cause many complexities and unpleasant symptoms.
Introduction to mouth breathing
Many people believe that it is just another way of breathing, but it is quite harmful to your physical and mental wellbeing and can cause serious health conditions. Temporary mouth breathing is not alarming, but when it becomes habitual or chronic, it causes long term side effects.
The normal pattern of breathing is usually through the nose, but when there is an obstruction in the airway, a person starts breathing through the mouth, known as mouth breathing. This condition is common in children below eight years old. Mouth breathing bypasses the cilia and hair present in the lining of the respiratory tract whose main function is to prevent the germs and dust particles from entering into the respiratory tract. Ultimately, mouth breathing allows all the harmful particles direct access to the lungs and trachea.
Common symptoms of mouth breathing include bad breath, dry mouth, ear and throat infections, malaligned teeth, flatter facial features, long jaws, and sleep disorders. Few factors can cause a person to breathe through the mouth, and that includes nasal congestion, poor sleep, enlarged tonsils, tongue-tie(anatomical defect where a small band of tissue-restricted tongue movement), anxiety, birth defects, and asthma. (1)
What are the effects of mouth breathing?
Mouth breathing can cause a range of unhealthy symptoms and can deteriorate overall health in many ways.
- Dry mouth
The first defense against oral bacteria in the saliva, but when a person is breathing through the mouth while sleeping, it leads to drying out of the saliva, dry and itchy throat, redness, and bleeding gums. It can further lead to bad breath(halitosis) and tooth decay. In people who breathe through the mouth, the air that moves over the tongue and teeth dries the saliva causing dry mouth.
- Poor sleep
Quality sleep is one of the most essential elements of leading a healthy life, and mouth breathing can disrupt that to a greater extent. The position of the jaw during mouth breathing makes it very difficult for a person to sleep well. Mouth breathing does not let much oxygen in the lungs, and this leads to sleep apnea, making a person wake up frequently at night. Doctors often suggest continuous positive airway pressure(CPAP) masks for sleep apnea.
- Facial deformities
In children, the harmful effects of mouth breathing are more prominent because that is their growing age, and the breathing patterns affect the shape of orofacial structures and airways. Mouth breathing, if left untreated, can lead to respiratory tract problems and many dental and facial deformities. Mouth breathing promotes the growth of the upper jaw rather than the lower one, and it leads to long face syndrome. Malocclusions such as skeletal class 2 or 3, and high palatal vaults, are also caused by mouth breathing. It also leads to gummy smiles, gingivitis, overbite, tooth decay, and crooked teeth. (2)
- Other health conditions
Apart from dentofacial deformities, mouth breathing increases the body’s stress response, which can lead to many adversities such as high blood pressure, high risk of stroke, ear infections, airway infections, and less immunity. Mouth breathing doesn’t distribute nitric oxide produced by the sinuses well in the body, and this leads to less immune response towards the regulation of blood pressure. It decreases the oxygenation of cells and can lead to dizziness, fainting, and general body fatigue.
- Changes in speech
For children, mouth breathing can become a habit, and it is best to treat it in childhood because it can cause speech impairment which if left unattended, can continue to adulthood. Breathing through the mouth for many years can lead to slurring and lisp. (3)
How to stop mouth breathing?
Mouth breathing is not a medical threat, and its treatment is available. Before treating mouth breathing, its cause must be known, and the focus is on eliminating the cause first. Most common treatment the doctor provides for mouth breathing are:
- CPAP devices
- Jaw repositioning appliances
- Oral appliance therapy
- Braces or clear aligners
- Nasal decongestants
- Steroid inhaler
On the other hand, it is important to take measures yourself in treating mouth breathing, and here are some ways to do it:
- Train yourself
The first step to get over mouth breathing is to train your brain, and remind yourself, again and again, to breathe through the nose rather than the mouth. Whenever you find yourself breathing through the mouth, just close your mouth and focus on breathing through the nose. It may be a good idea to write it on a sticky note and paste it on your monitor. Try as much as you can to breathe through your nose.
- Change your sleeping position
It is always better to adopt a good sleeping position. Sleeping on your back is a really good way to overcome mouth breathing, and when the head is elevated, it can help to relieve nasal congestion. Elevated heads also help prevent the restricted flow of air through the lungs. (4)
- Practice yoga or breathing exercises
Breathing exercises and yoga are fundamentals of proper breathing, and they improve breathing through the nostrils. Regular aerobic conditions by the mind-body exercises help train lungs and heart, and it also gets the sympathetic nervous system to work better. Physical exercise also boosts the immune system.
- Remove all allergens
It is better to remove all kinds of allergens from your home, especially your sleeping area. Allergens can block nasal passages and create a harmful effect making it difficult to breathe through the nose. Wash bed sheets with hot water, remove plants from your sleeping area, remove carpets and rugs as they worsen the air quality by harboring dust and bacteria.
- Practice nose clearing exercises
The reason why most people find it difficult to breathe through their nose at night and ultimately shift to mouth breathing is nasal congestion. There’s a breathing technique called “Buteyko breathing exercise” that is used to correct multiple breathing problems. Here is how to do it: (5)
- Sit comfortably and close your mouth.
- Breathe through your nose for 2-3 minutes and then pinch your nose close with your fingers. Hold your breath for as long as you can and then slowly let the air out through your nostrils.
- Keep your mouth closed during these exercises. Repeat several times.
- Use nasal spray
Use a nasal saline spray or a Neti pot to clear up obstructed nostrils. They are very effective in adding moisture to the nose and decongesting the nose, making nasal breathing easy.
Why is it important to breathe through the nose?
One of the most important parts of our respiratory system is our nose. Nose breathing is incredibly simple yet a powerful habit that can bring immense positive changes in our overall health. The nose is designed to warm and moisten the air before it reaches your lungs while the mouth is not. The nose is also fully equipped with an inbuilt first line of defense that includes tiny hair that prevents the dust and germs from entering into the respiratory tract. Whereas, the mouth has no system like this to combat foreign particles. Nature gave us a mouth for eating and a nose for breathing for a very good reason. Here are some benefits of nose breathing. (6)
- Nasal breathing keeps you calm by helping you breathe more deeply.
- It moisturizes the inhaled air preventing the dryness of lungs.
- It helps in maintaining body temperature.
- It helps fight infections because when you breathe in through the nose, the air is moistened, warmed, and mixed with nitric oxide, which kills deadly bacterias. Nose hair and mucous also play a key role in fighting foreign particles.
- Breathing through the nose provides better oxygenation to the lungs, especially the lower lobes of the lungs.
- Sinuses in the Nose release large amounts of nitric oxide, an important element used for improving immunity, blood flow, expanding blood vessels, and protecting the organs from damage.
- Nasal breathing helps you get a night of better sleep and prevents snoring and sleep apnea. When you breathe through the mouth, you bypass nasal mucosa that carries the stimuli to reflex nerves to control breathing. Mouth breathing ultimately predisposes you to snore and apnea. However, exercising nasal breathing helps you reprogram these symptoms.
- It also boosts the brain’s functions and relieves stress.
Learning to breathe through the nose has numerous health benefits, and it allows the body to function at its optimal level. Breathing is not just an automatic activity- it needs attention.
- Abreu RR, Rocha RL, Lamounier JA, Guerra F. Etiology, clinical manifestations, and concurrent findings in mouth-breathing children. Jornal de pediatria. 2008;84(6):529-35.
- Harari D, Redlich M, Miri S, Hamud T, Gross M. The effect of mouth breathing versus nasal breathing on dentofacial and craniofacial development in orthodontic patients. The Laryngoscope. 2010 Oct;120(10):2089-93.
- Junqueira P, Marchesan IQ, de Oliveira LR, Ciccone E, Haddad L, Rizzo MC. Speech-language pathology findings in patients with mouth breathing: multidisciplinary diagnosis according to etiology. International Journal of Orofacial Myology. 2010 Jan 1;36.
- Virkkula P, Maasilta P, Hytönen M, Salmi T, Malmberg H. Nasal obstruction, and sleep-disordered breathing: the effect of supine body position on nasal measurements in snorers. Acta oto-laryngologica. 2003 May 1;123(5):648-54.
- Courtney R. Strengths, weaknesses, and possibilities of the Buteyko breathing method. Biofeedback. 2008 Jul 1;36(2):59-63.
- Petruson B. The importance of improved nasal breathing: a review of the Nozovent nostril dilator. Acta oto-laryngologica. 2007 Jan 1;127(4):418-23.