Breathing is an involuntary process, that can also be controlled consciously. There are two airway passages to the lungs, the nose and the mouth. Generally, we use both nose and mouth to breathe. Normal breathing is through the nose, with breathing through the mouth only (mouth breathing) becoming necessary while exercising, to provide the excess oxygen required. Nasal congestion due to allergies or a cold can also lead to mouth breathing, to compensate for the lack of normal breathing through the nose.
Breathing through mouth transiently, as after a heavy exercise or during nasal congestion isn’t harmful. Although, constantly breathing through the mouth, including while you are asleep, can lead to problems in the mouth and the rest of the body as well. Mouth breathing can affect adults and children. In children, it can cause facial deformities, misaligned teeth and poor growth. In adults, chronic mouth breathing can cause bad breath, drying of the mouth leading to increase in cavities and gum diseases, and can worsen symptoms of other illnesses.
Advantages of breathing through the nose
We almost never realize the importance of the nose until it gets congested.
It warms the air to body temperature before it gets to the lungs.
The nose has small hair follicles that filter the air before we breathe it.
The nose moistens the air as we breathe in, hence preventing the bronchial tubes and lungs from drying out.
Nose breathing creates resistance for the air stream, increasing, oxygen uptake by maintaining the elasticity of the lungs.
Some people breathe through the mouth only while sleeping. This typically happens in people who have a deviated nose septum, sleep apnea or are overweight. It would be more difficult to realize that you are breathing through your mouth when you are asleep. This could be a fact if:
You snore while sleeping
You have a dry mouth
You suffer from bad breath, despite good oral hygiene
You wake up tired or irritable
There is hoarseness of the voice
You feel fatigued or have dark circles under your eyes
Detecting mouth breathing in children might be more complicated. But you can look for some signs. The child could be a mouth breather if the child:
Snores while sleeping
Has dry/cracked lips
Has enlarged tonsils
Is irritable and can’t concentrate easily
Has increased crying episodes at night
Is growing slower than normal
It is important to understand mouth breathing in children, as it can be misdiagnosed as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
Major Causes of Mouth Breathing
Mouth breathing is caused by the inability to breathe through the nose. The reasons why people start breathing through the mouth include:
Nose block due to allergies, cold, or a sinus infection
Shape and size of the jaw
A nasal septum that is very deviated to one side
Small growths in the nose
Shape of the nose
Sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing stops involuntarily for brief periods of time during sleep
Chronic stress or anxiety
Some people continue mouth breathing even after the nasal obstruction has resolved.
How is mouth breathing diagnosed?
There is no single diagnostic test for mouth breathing.
Since, some of the most prominent signs of mouth breathing are seen in the mouth, dentists may be the first people to diagnose mouth breathing. Doubtful that you have mouth breathing? Know for sure at the earliest.
Oral problems caused by mouth breathing
Mouth breathing is very drying. It dries up the thin lining of the mouth and the saliva leading to
Increase in cavities in the mouth
Other health issues due to mouth breathing
Mouth breathing may result in low oxygen concentration in the blood leading to
Raised blood pressure
Decreased lung function
Effects of mouth breathing in children
Mouth breathing affects children more adversely than adults. If it isn’t corrected at an early stage it can lead to
Misaligned teeth with crowding
Narrow, long face
Inability to concentrate
Mouth breathing in children needs to be addressed early, to reduce its negative effect on facial and dental development.
Untreated mouth breathing leads to increased tooth decay and gum disease. Poor sleep caused by mouth breathing can also reduce a person’s quality of life and exacerbate stress.
How can mouth breathing be treated?
Treatment for mouth breathing depends on the underlying cause. In case of nasal congestion medications can help.
In children, surgery might be required to remove the swollen tonsils and adenoids. There are appliances to widen the palate and help open the sinuses and nasal passages. Braces and other orthodontic treatments might also help treat the underlying cause of mouth breathing.