Chronic mouth breathing can cause bad breath, sore throats, and respiratory problems. Generally, breathing through the nose is better for your overall health.
Mouth breathing might not seem like a big deal, but it can actually lead to some chronic health concerns. This includes snoring, bad breath, raspy voice, sore through, and coughing. But don’t worry! We have some top-notch tips to help you breathe better.
Psst. We also have a rundown of what mouth breathing symptoms to look out for in children, and a breakdown of possible causes.
Most people breathe through both their noses and their mouths. When your nose is blocked or if you’re exhausted from exercise, you’ll naturally breathe through your mouth. That’s perfectly fine.
But if you breathe mainly or exclusively through your mouth, that’s mouth breathing. It can cause medical problems, particularly in children and teens.
Mouth breathing exposes your teeth, gums, and throat to lots of dry, potentially dirty air. Mouth breathers could get a dry, parched throat or a hoarse voice more often than others. Taking in air like this also increases the risk of teeth and gum diseases.
Failing to breathe through your nose enough means you don’t get to exercise or stretch your upper airway. Perhaps for this reason, conditions like sleep apnea are closely associated with mouth breathing. At the very least, mouth breathers tend to snore more than others.
Can mouth breathing change your face shape?
The younger someone begins mouth breathing, the more serious the outlook can get. Children who breathe through their mouths often develop airway stenosis. That’s a condition where the upper airway fails to develop fully, leading to problems with breathing and speech.
Mouth breathing during childhood can even make the bone structure of the child’s face develop differently. The result is often a longer, narrower face with a distinctive receding chin and jawline. Sometimes, the top and bottom rows of teeth also don’t line up properly with one another.
Finally, poor-quality sleep caused by bad breathing habits can impact a young person’s mental health. Symptoms of mouth breathing are often misdiagnosed as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Checking that a child is sleeping and breathing properly can avoid misdiagnosis and unnecessary medication.
Generally speaking, mouth breathing results in your body taking in more air faster. Nose breathing could result in air that’s of a better quality for your body to absorb.
Your nose plays a seriously underrated function within your respiratory system. Those tiny hairs in your schnozzle work to warm, filter, and humidify the air that enters your lungs. Meanwhile, mucus might not be the sexiest fluid in your body but it does a great job catching bacteria.
The nitric oxide produced in your nose helps your blood vessels dilate and move oxygen around your body once it gets inhaled. Breathing through your nose also puts resistance on your airstream, strengthening your lungs by making them work harder.
So, in short, nose breathing can make air:
- less dry
- easier for your body to absorb
- closer to your body’s natural temperature
Mouth breathing gives you none of those advantages. However, it does let you suck in much bigger quantities of air in far less time. When you exercise, you’ll typically find yourself switching to mouth breathing when airflow resistance increases in your nose.
But it’s a teensy bit more complicated than ‘mouth gives you more air, the nose gives you better air. Some recent research suggests your body might absorb the same amount of oxygen whether you breathe through your nose or your mouth. On the other hand, emerging studies link nose breathing during exercise to increased cardiovascular stress. The jury’s still out.
Probably, but how you breathe is always going to be situational. Evidence appears to suggest that, on the whole, the nose is the organ that’s more specialized for breathing. But don’t go forcing yourself to breathe through your nose when you’ve got a cold.
Mouth breathing is generally only a problem when it’s chronic. If you can’t kick the habit of breathing through your mouth despite the conscious effort, think about getting some medical advice.
When you’re awake, you can generally correct the way you breathe and train yourself to use your nose. Mouth breathing during sleep is harder to control. Sometimes, you might not even know you’re doing it.
Are you breathing through your mouth while you’re asleep? Look for the following symptoms:
- bad breath
- bags beneath your eyes
- difficulty concentrating
- dry mouth and throat
- fatigue and irritability
- thirst during the night
- hoarse voice, particularly in the mornings
Breathing properly is extra important for kids and teens. If they’re too young to notice or communicate their symptoms, you can check for them yourself.
Pay attention to signs like:
- Bad moods and irritability
- Cracked or dried-out lips
- Drop in academic performance
- Enlarged tonsils
- Night-time crying or nightmares
- Sleepiness during the day
- Slow or slowing growth rate
Mouth breathing isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when symptoms like these show up in kids. It’s sometimes mistaken for something more serious, despite being relatively easy to spot and correct.
A number of everyday factors could cause you to develop the bad habit of long-term mouth breathing. These include:
- Damage to the nasal septum
- Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
- Frequent allergic reactions
- Long-term colds or flu
- Recurring sinus infections
- Sinus polyps
- Sucking your fingers or thumbs
Long-running experiences of stress and anxiety are also risk factors. When we’re under stress, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in. Our breathing gets faster and shallower, often too fast for our noses to comfortably handle. Mouth breathing takes over and becomes the norm over time.
In other cases, some birth abnormalities could make a person more likely to develop mouth breathing, particularly as a kid. For example:
- Ankyloglossia (tongue tie)
- Choanal atresia
- Cleft palate
- Pierre Robin syndrome
A healthcare provider can advise on the best way to treat mouth breathing, depending on the cause. Medications to treat a blocked-up nose might include:
- Decongestant nasal sprays
- Steroid nasal sprays, either prescribed or over-the-counter
For more serious cases, you might be given an adhesive strip to wear over the bridge of your nose. This stiff strip gently holds your upper airway open, lowering resistance.
Children and young adults might get recommended surgery to remove swollen adenoids or tonsils. Alternatively, they might be given a brace or orthodontic aid to enlarge their palate, encouraging their sinuses to open up.
If mouth breaking is linked to obstructive sleep apnea, you may be given a face mask to wear at night. This is continuous positive air pressure therapy (CPAP), it stops your upper airway from closing while you sleep.
Tips for preventing mouth breathing
Prevention beats cure. If you’re exposed to environmental factors that make mouth breathing more likely (frequent travel, for instance), you can take action. Think about steps like:
- HCAV air filters for your heating and aircon
- More regular cleaning to keep your house allergen-free
- Saline nasal sprays during long-haul travel
- Sleeping on your back with your head propped up with a pillow
- Taking allergy medication at the first sign of symptoms
- Yoga lessons, which focus on breathing through the nose
There are also various habit-forming techniques you can practice to consciously breathe through your nose more often. Setting an alarm three times per day for five minutes of deep, steady nose breathing can set a healthy precedent.
It’s crazy to think that the way we breathe air, something that happens totally unconsciously, has such a big impact. Properly developed airways help our growth, our posture, and our mental health.
Lots of people aren’t even aware of the negative health implications of mouth breathing, particularly for young people. As always, taking a proactive look at the fine details of our well-being can throw up some surprising information. How you use that information is up to you.