Mouth Breathing and Its Effects on the Body

July 10, 2020

Mouth Breathing and Its Effects on the Body

Our mouth should only be open for five reasons: talking, smiling, biting into something, kissing and performing oral hygiene. Otherwise the mouth should be closed, and the tongue should be touching the roof of the mouth. When we are all born, we are compelled to breathe through our noses. Then some of us switch to breathing through our mouth which can cause several complications later in life.

The blood’s pH is actually what signals our brain to have our body inhale oxygen and exhale excess carbon dioxide from the body. Faster, shallower breaths lead to a reduction in oxygenation of the cells and slower, longer breaths increase the oxygenation. Breathing through the nose has several benefits. It filters the air that we breathe in from 98-99% of allergens, bacteria and viruses. It warms and moisturizes the air before it reaches the lungs. The sinuses also produce nitrous oxide which increases oxygen efficiency by 10-18%. Nasal breathing has been seen to increase stamina and endurance. If you start practicing nasal breathing when exercising, you will notice a decrease in stamina for the first two weeks and then an increase from previous exercises when mouth breathing. With nasal breathing, the tongue rests against the roof of the mouth without touching the teeth, and it also applies a gentle pressure to the palate when we swallow which is around 500 times a day. In this position, the tongue provides pressure which causes the palate to grow wider and forward into the correct shape it needs to be in for the teeth to erupt correctly.

When people breathe through their mouth, the tongue drops down and forward and there’s no pressure on the palate. We then see a narrow palate and overlapping dentition which typically leads to palatal expanders and more time spent in orthodontics.  It actually changes the structure of the face. We would develop a long face, flaccid lips and flat areas with dark circles under the eyes. The chin is pulled back, a longer nose forms and our posture starts to slouch.

Mouth breathers are prone to: bad breath, chronic fatigue, anxiety, decreased ability to focus, allergies, itchy eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion, asthma, enlarged tonsils, dry cough, sleep disturbances, snoring, drinking water/liquid frequently, tongue thrust, abnormal swallowing habits, poor palate development, orthodontic relapse, altered speech patterns, weak/flaccid lips, low energy levels, high stress levels, addiction to chap stick, chewing with the mouth open, gingivitis/periodontitis

Oral breathing has no filtration, no heating of the air and does not provide nitrous oxide. Breathing through the mouth actually reduces the amount of oxygen that is absorbed into the cells. This reduction can lead to a decrease in sleep, stamina, energy levels and ADHD problems. Children diagnosed with ADHD may actually be mouth breathers who are simply sleep deprived. As the mouth dries out, the pH of saliva drops which can lead to more cavities. This dryness and lack of air filtration in mouth breathing can cause enlarged and inflamed tonsils and increases the risk of upper respiratory tract infections.

There are several possible causes for people to initially start breathing through their mouth, such as enlarged tonsils, nasal septum deviations, large nasal turbinates, allergies and being tongue tied. All of which can lead into a skeletal growth problem and a smaller maxilla.  Or it could simply be a habit. Children can learn mouth breathing from watching a parent or guardian who breathe through their mouths.  Many believe that mouth breathing occurs because the nose is congested, but that is not always the case. The brain of a mouth breather thinks carbon dioxide is being lost too quickly from the nose and stimulates the nose to produce mucous to slow the breathing. This creates a vicious circle of mouth breathing which triggers mucous formation, causing nasal passages blocking, which leads to more mouth breathing.

Determining if someone is a mouth breather is not always easy. Some people will admit that they always breathe through their mouth. Others believe they are nose breathers, but if you watch them, their mouth is open most of the time. One sign of mouth breathing is an addiction to lip balm. An open mouth leads to drooling, both awake and asleep, causing chapped lips. Closed-mouth lip seal is efficient at keeping saliva in and air out, but chronic mouth breathers usually find it very difficult to hold their lips together.

Early intervention is crucial to correct skull development and to prevent malocclusion. Our adult skull is developed 40% by the age of 4 and 90% by the age of 12. So it’s imperative that we stop kids from breathing through their mouths as early as possible. Bottle feeding, pacifiers and sippy cups all force the tongue down and forward. A simple method to encourage the tongue to go back to the roof of the mouth after using these products is to use the handle of a plastic spoon to rub the top of the tongue and then the roof of the mouth which will stimulate the tongue to pull up and touch the palate.  There are also myofunctional therapists that can work with you.

They have developed mouth tape to use at night when sleeping. We recommend that you first try this during the day for several hours before trying at night. If you feel that it is difficult to breathe through your nose you may also need nasal dilator inserts for your nose. Both the tape and nasal dilators can be purchased on Amazon. If you want to try the tape, we recommend that you roll your lips in and place the tape over them. We recommend folding the ends on both sides over so you have an edge to grip when you want to take it off. We also recommend blotting it on your sheets or your pajamas before applying it to your mouth to take some of the glue off.  The best way to remove it is to push your tongue through your lips, wet the tape and it will come right off.

So if you notice yourself or anyone in your family breathing through their mouth, let us know and we will do our best to help transition you back to breathing through your nose.




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