What Is Mouth Breathing?
It is perfectly natural to breathe through your mouth at certain times, such as when lifting a heavy load or exercising. Breathing through the mouth most of the time, however, can cause health problems.
Mouth breathing starts when we can’t get enough air through the nose, so the mouth takes over. This forces us to breathe through the mouth out of sheer necessity, and this can become a life-long habit if not corrected.
It is important to realize that mouth breathing and having an open mouth are really the same thing, and are equally detrimental to your health.
What Causes Mouth Breathing?
The most common causes of mouth breathing are:
Allergies and/or food sensitivities
Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
Chronic nasal congestion
Each of these factors make it physically impossible for a person to nasal breathe. If nasal breathing is not possible, the body’s only choice is to mouth breathe.
How Does Mouth Breathing Affect The Body?
Mouth breathing changes the way the tongue works and where it rests in the mouth.
Your tongue should naturally rest in the top of your mouth, however, when your mouth is open it rests in the bottom. This leads to underdeveloped oral musculature, and can cause problems with speech, swallowing, breathing and chewing. When the tongue rests low in the mouth, it must push forward to swallow – this is called a tongue thrust.
A tongue thrust and mouth breathing always go hand in hand – so if you’re mouth breathing, you also have a tongue thrust swallowing pattern.
Facial Growth and Development
Believe it or not, breathing through your mouth can actually change the shape of your face and alter your appearance.
This is especially true for children because they are still growing. Children whose mouth breathing is not corrected may suffer from abnormal facial and dental development.
Symptoms of untreated mouth breathing include long, narrow faces and mouths, less defined cheekbones, small lower jaws, and weak chins. Other facial symptoms include gummy smiles and crooked teeth.
A “mouth breather” facial expression is typically not viewed as an attractive or desirable appearance.
Other Effects on the Body
Using the mouth for breathing disrupts our natural body mechanics. The root of the problem in many cases is oxygen deprivation, which can affect a number of bodily functions and lead to symptoms such as:
Gingivitis and gum disease
Sore throat and cold symptoms
Increased risk of cavities
Poor sleep leading to chronic fatigue
Digestive disturbances – gas, upset stomach, acid reflux, etc.
In children: mouth breathing has been linked to poor growth and weak academic performance, as well as ADD and ADHD symptoms.
In adults: poor oxygen concentration in the bloodstream has been associated with high blood pressure, heart problems, sleep apnea and other medical issues.
In addition, breathing through your mouth can lead to postural changes and spinal issues. When the tongue is in the wrong position, the head tends to rest forward, causing the shoulders to slump. When the mouth is open, it’s also more difficult to sit up straight.
The Teeth and Braces
Mouth breathing can also affect the position of your teeth and your bite. When the mouth is open, the lips are weak and there’s no external support for the teeth. The tongue simultaneously pushes forward, progressively moving the teeth over time. This can cause problems with orthodontic treatment. Time spent in braces will be longer, and the chance that the results won’t be permanent is far higher.
What Can Be Done to Treat Mouth Breathing?
Mouth breathing may seem like an easy habit to change – just close your mouth, right?
Unfortunately, for people who struggle with mouth breathing, it’s not that easy. The body simply doesn’t know how to breathe normally, and the muscles of the face and mouth have compensated and learned to work incorrectly.
As an experienced myofunctional therapist, my goals are to help you retrain your muscles and to help you stop breathing through your mouth. When my patients switch from mouth breathing to nasal breathing, the changes to their health and quality of life can be astonishing.