Updated: Mar 17
By Anagha Rao
We all know that taking care of our teeth is essential and that brushing, flossing, and avoiding sugar will help prevent cavities. But did you ever think that breathing incorrectly could impact our oral health just as much as sugar? How? The answer lies in mouth breathing.
Mouth breathing is a condition where a person breathes through their mouth instead of their nose. Mouth breathing is caused by an obstructed nasal airway, preventing the intake of oxygen into the lungs. Some causes for an obstructed nasal airway include nasal congestion, enlarged tonsils, or facial structure. Certain chronic conditions such as asthma or chronic colds can lead to mouth breathing becoming a habit, causing the body to resort to its only other source of oxygen: the mouth. Oftentimes, people may develop a habit of breathing through their mouth even after the nasal congestion clears.
Although mouth breathing may seem relatively harmless, it can be a risk factor for numerous dangerous health conditions and can lead to facial deformities. But why is mouth breathing so harmful? To fully answer this question, let’s dive deeper into the process of breathing. The human nose is equipped with a filtering mechanism that filters and cleans the air we breathe in. If air is inhaled through the mouth, the air is unfiltered, and bacteria and viruses will directly reach the oral cavity. Additionally, mouth breathing can dry out the mouth, leading to saliva being unable to wash away bacteria. When the acids and bacteria stay in the mouth, they can erode teeth enamel and accelerate tooth decay, leading to halitosis (also known as bad breath), cavities, and periodontal disease, which is a gum disease. When we breathe through our mouth, we are inhaling more oxygen than normal, leading to the body’s collapsible airways being more prone to collapse. Another significant effect of mouth breathing is facial abnormalities. When someone breathes through their mouth, it can put stress on parts of the body, including the cheek muscles, and jaw. The lower jaw will become used to being open, and the nostrils will be small and poorly developed as a result of not being used enough. The tongue will also drop down to the floor of the mouth instead of resting on the roof of the mouth. These factors can lead to long, narrow facial structures, less prominent jaws, and a retracted chin.
Mouth breathing can also be a risk factor for many additional chronic health diseases such as sleep apnea, asthma, and other gum diseases. Studies have found that oral breathing can induce obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or make it worse by increasing airway collapse and nasal resistance. This is because mouth breathing puts the jaw in a position that doesn’t support the optimal airway and prevents a good night’s sleep. (For context, sleep apnea is a sleep condition in which the victim wakes up randomly throughout the night due to irregular, rapid breathing patterns.) Also, oral breathing doesn’t give our body the oxygen it needs, which can then lead to waking up in the middle of the night for oxygen. According to one study, mouth breathing can worsen exercise-induced asthma. This happens because the breath does not get as warm or moist, both of which contribute to reduced airway problems. Adults who have a history of sleep apnea may find their symptoms worsened by mouth breathing.
If your airways are genuinely getting blocked, it is best to see a medical professional and get advice. However, if mouth breathing is just a habit, there are some tips you can implement to minimize mouth breathing. Sleeping on your back rather than on your stomach can optimize the amount of oxygen inhaled. Being aware of your breathing techniques and taking time to practice nose breathing is important, even if it is just for 5 minutes a day. Reducing stress can also be a great solution because people tend to breathe through their mouths when stressed. Lastly, practicing meditation and breathing techniques can help open up your airway and make the oxygen flow smoother.
What are some things I can do to stop mouth breathing?
If your nose is genuinely congested, it is best to see a medical professional and seek advice. If not, follow some simple tips below.
Sleep on your back
Become aware of your breathing
Set reminders for yourself to check if you are mouth breathing
Practice meditation and breathing techniques
Why is mouth breathing bad?
Mouth breathing can also be a risk factor for many other chronic health diseases such as sleep apnea, asthma, and gum disease. Studies have found that oral breathing can induce obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or make it worse by increasing airway collapse and nasal resistance. Additionally, mouth breathing can dry out the mouth, leading to saliva being unable to wash away bacteria. When we breathe through our mouth, we are inhaling more oxygen than normal, which can lead collapsible airways being more prone to collapse