Have you ever given any thought to how you breathe day in and day out? It’s an automatic function so we probably don’t pay it much attention. Think about it now: are you breathing through your nose or your mouth? When you are sick and congested you probably breathe through your mouth, that’s natural. How about when you sleep? Do you wake up in the morning with a dry mouth because it’s been open most of the night? If you breathe through your mouth more than you breathe through your nose, it can lead to surprisingly serious problems with oral health and overall health. Here’s what you should know.
Why Breathing Through Your Nose Is So Important
The nose is the body’s filter. As you breathe in through your nose, harmful germs and particles are trapped and prevented from entering the lungs. This natural physiological function is more important now than ever. Nasal breathing is the way our bodies are intended to breathe. When air enters the nose it is humidified, keeping it at the ideal temperature to enter the lungs. This is important, as proper temperature is required to inhale oxygen. The nose also produces nitric oxide which we need for heart and blood vessel health. None of this happens through mouth breathing.
Why Breathing Through Your Mouth Is So Bad
Mouth breathing can lead to many health problems, even if it happens only occasionally at night. When you breathe through the mouth, your mouth, gums, tongue, and oral cavity dry out. Dry mouth encourages excess acids to build up and remain in the mouth, which can lead to poor oral health, tooth decay, and gum disease. Your saliva is critical as it keeps your mouth moist so you can wash away acids and bacteria throughout the day. Your saliva also helps collect more debris when chewing food and swallowing it, so it does not stay in the mouth. However, problems with mouth breathing go beyond just oral health. Other potential issues include:
- TMJ: When you breathe through the mouth, your tongue drops down and affects the posture of your jaw, which then juts down and out. This can cause jaw strain and painful issues related to TMJ including headaches, muscle pain, facial pain, and issues with chewing and bite.
- Long Face: Because mouth breathing affects the position of the jaw, it can cause developmental issues in children. The constant posture that forces the mandible down and out encourages the face to grow long instead of round. This leads to a long, skinny facial appearance which constricts the nasal passages as well as the back of the throat, causing breathing disorders.
- Throat Issues: Children who are mouth breathers can develop issues such as allergies, long faces, and obstructions in their nasal passages. This can in turn affect their development too, including a higher risk for painful and dangerous illnesses such as strep throat or enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
- Orthodontic Issues: Again, when you do not breathe through your nose, your tongue and jaw are not in the ideal position. This can lead to issues when teeth erupt, so orthodontic treatment is required to correct teeth positioning or bite issues.
- Nitric Oxide Deficiency: Mouth breathing can create a nitric oxide deficiency. Your body then adapts to this deficiency and it can eventually lead to heart disease. It is believed healthy people in their 40’s who suffer from heart attacks could be experiencing a lack of nitric oxide due to years of mouth breathing.
- Snoring and Sleep Apnea: When you breathe through your mouth you are more likely to snore or develop sleep apnea. This is because your tongue is not in the ideal position for proper breathing when lying down. Both issues can interfere with sleep which in turn can impact overall health. Sleep apnea, heart disease, and diabetes are all associated with mouth breathing.
- Insufficient Oxygen: Proper breathing regulates how much oxygen comes into the nose and is taken into the body. Mouth breathing can interfere with regulation, so the body does not get the right amount of oxygen it needs.
- Insufficient pH Levels: Mouth breathing can lead to a change in the pH level in blood, which then becomes more acidic. This can increase the risk of cancer cell growth.
These are just a few examples of serious complications caused by mouth breathing. General dentistry checkups can keep an eye on signs of mouth breathing so you can catch the issue early on. As part of preventative dentistry treatments, your dentist can also identify the need for orthodontic treatments.
Breathing Through Your Nose Under Your Mask
The pandemic has made it necessary to wear masks. However, what people might not realize is that when wearing their masks they are not breathing properly. As mentioned, breathing through your nose is the healthiest way to breathe. When it comes to illnesses such as COVID-19, nose breathing is our first line of defense as it prevents unwanted particles from entering into the lungs. When wearing your mask, therefore, you should remember to breathe through your nose. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your nose as well. If you begin mouth breathing under your mask, you are deactivating your best first defense against infection from COVID-19.
Tips For Breathing Through Your Nose
Mouth breathers can retrain themselves to breathe through the nose with these tips:
- Practice: Whenever you can, make sure your mouth is closed, and practice inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Practice as often as possible to help retrain yourself to breathe properly through your nose.
- Keep Nasal Passages Clean: Because mouth breathing happens when nasal passages are blocked, keeping nasal passages clean is crucial. Using saline solutions as a natural remedy to relieve sinus congestion is the safest way to allow yourself to naturally breathe through your nose. This is especially important if you suffer from allergies or have a cold or flu.
- Kids: Children should be taught to breathe through their noses as early in life as possible. If you notice your child is breathing through their mouth, practice proper breathing exercises with them to help them form healthy breathing habits.
- Speak To Your Dentist: Your dentist can examine your child for signs of mouth breathing. If you are a mouth breather, there are devices available to assist in proper breathing. For example, night mouth breathing can be treated with a mandibular advancement device that assists in opening your airways. You might also require oral myofunctional therapy. This teaches the brain to refocus on proper breathing using exercises such as closing the mouth and lips and practicing breathing through the nose.
Whether you are wearing a mask, or safe at home, remaining attentive to breathing through your nose will help keep you healthier and calmer.