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Mouth breathing: What it does to you and simple ways to prevent it

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

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Take a second to notice the way you are breathing. Are you inhaling and exhaling through your nose or mouth? Humans have evolved to breathe through our noses to avoid choking while eating, which is considered the more ‘superior’ way of taking in air.

But some of us may develop mouth breathing as we grow or are simply born this way. It can seriously affect your health, teeth, sleep, and overall well-being if it continues uncorrected.

Read on to learn more about how breathing through the mouth affects you and how you can gradually correct it!

Nose breathing vs mouth breathing

Sorry mouth breathers, but what you are doing is not the most efficient. Our bodies breathe on autopilot, so you would think it is doing so in a way that’s best for us. After all, as long as we take in enough air to stay alive, it should be A-Okay, right?

Actually, no! When you breathe in through your nose or mouth, two different sets of processes are at play. Let’s look at why nose breathing is more favorable than mouth breathing:

Air that goes through the nose passes through complex structures that warm, humidify, pressurize, and filter it so that it can be readily and easily absorbed into the blood when it gets to the lungs. Because of this, nose breathing is capable of helping us extract up to 20% more oxygen than breathing through the mouth.

While this might not seem like much, it can make a massive difference. Imagine getting a 20% off shopping voucher every time you shop; wouldn’t that add up to a lot of savings? Now, imagine getting 20% more air every time you breathe!

Studies have shown that breathing through your nose when exercising reduces your breathing rate and can boost your stamina, making you feel less tired. There is a good chance that you might appreciate exercising even more!

By filtering the air for dust, pollen, germs, viruses, and other allergens, the nose's filtration system also plays a vital role in defending the body as it is its first line of defense.

How mouth breathing effects are causing you harm

I am not saying you should avoid mouth breathing completely. It is not always possible. Sometimes the body needs to temporarily switch to breathing through the mouth during intense exercise or if your nose is blocked. Taking in big gulps can help get more air to the lungs quickly.

Habitual mouth breathing involves taking in air and expelling it through the mouth for long periods. Mouth breathing at night is especially prevalent, often happening during sleep. Mouth breathing people are more likely to experience sleep problems such as sleep apnea, which can lead to fatigue, lower productivity, and overall poorer quality of life due to a lack of oxygen.

Its effects are far more significant in children since it occurs during their development stage. This way of breathing can lead to permanent physical changes to the shape of facial structures and airways. Left uncorrected, it can set the stage for chronic respiratory problems in adulthood, such as snoring and sleep apnea and result in a less attractive face. Studies found that poor sleep quality in children can tremendously impact their mental and physical health, resulting in lower cognitive functioning and quality of life.

From a dental point of view, mouth breathing is bad for the teeth as it leads to a dry mouth. There is insufficient saliva to cleanse the mouth of bacteria and debris, giving a chance for bacteria to thrive. If you always have a dry mouth, the buildup of bacteria can cause bad breath, gum disease, cavities, and even throat and ear infections.

When you are breathing through your mouth, the tongue is not where it’s supposed to be, which is resting against the roof of the mouth. This positioning assists the formation of natural dental arches and straight teeth. Unfortunately, persistent use of the mouth for breathing can lead to the formation of mouth breathing teeth irregularities, making them crooked over time.

Causes of mouth breathing and ways to correct it

Whether it develops as a habit or is due to an underlying health problem, it can cause significant issues. Congestion in the nasal cavity which may be due to chronic allergies, asthma, chronic sinusitis, or things like swollen tonsils or adenoid glands at the back of the throat and a deviated septum, can all hinder nose breathing.

For most people, mouth breathing is a bad habit. Luckily, this is easy to correct as you can quite easily train your body to breathe through the nose simply by being more aware of how you breathe. Set reminders to check on your breathing and make sure to inhale and exhale through the nose.

Got a stuffy nose? Try clearing it with this simple exercise:

  • Breathe in and out through your nose for a few minutes with your mouth shut.

  • Next, take a deep breath through the nose and pinch your nostrils. Then, slowly exhale through the nostrils once you can't hold your breath any longer.

Do this as many times as necessary to clear your nose.

If that doesn’t help, visit your doctor to determine what's impeding your breathing. They may suggest surgery if there is a tissue blocking your nasal passage or prescribe you nasal decongestants or antihistamines. You can also try steroid nasal sprays that you can buy over the counter.

Preventing mouth breathing at night is a little more tricky, but use these steps to make it easier:

  • Clear your nasal airways before bedtime using a nasal steroid, decongestant, or saline spray

  • Sleep on your sides

  • If you sleep on your back, elevate your head to keep the nasal airways open

  • Use mouth tape to seal the lips and direct airflow through the nose

Correcting mouth breathing in children

If you observe that your child is breathing primarily through their mouth, determine if something is restricting their nasal passage. Visiting your doctor can help evaluate if your child is developing mouth breathing as a habit or if an underlying issue keeps them from breathing through the nose. Once you know the cause, you can help them to make the switch to nose breathing gradually.

Mouth breathing effects are numerous and can lead to gum disease and tooth decay if left untreated. The lack of oxygen the body is getting will harm your child's quality of life and increase stress levels, which a lack of quality sleep can also exacerbate. In children, the consequences of mouth breathing are far more severe as it occurs during the time in which their bodies grow and develop.

Especially during the early stages, it is highly treatable to prevent or minimize permanent damage to the facial structures and dental development and arrest the medical and social problems that come with it. So, now that you know the harm that mouth breathing can have and the benefits of breathing through the nose, use my simple advice to make some changes today!

If you’re as passionate as I am about practicing good oral hygiene, I’d love to meet you!

I will be in Orlando on the 20th of July with Mouthwatch at the RDH Under One Roof (UOR) conference, where we’re looking forward to three action-packed days of quality dental hygiene education. Expect educational courses from notable, industry-leading speakers plus an exhibition where you can discover, look, see, and feel the newest, most innovative dental hygiene products and equipment available on the market today. See you there!

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