Mouth breathing is detrimental to your health. But if corrected, most of the scary consequences of mouth breathing can be avoided or reversed.
Learn about the frightening repercussions of mouth breathing and how to break this dreadful habit in this article.
How Mouth Breathing is Detrimental to Your Health
You may know that mouth breathing can cause crooked teeth and bad breath. Yet the ramifications of mouth breathing are much more serious. Mouth breathing causes physical and psychological damage in children and adults. Some damage cannot be reversed.
Before we explore the signs of mouth breathing and what we can do to stop it, let’s look at the possible consequences.
1. Facial abnormalities or deformities. In children, untreated mouth breathing results in an “adenoid face” or “long face syndrome.” While the severity of the facial abnormalities range child to child, a mouth breather’s face will typically have tired eyes, a crooked nose, a narrow face, a receding chin, a smaller airway, and bad neck and shoulder posture. Crooked teeth and bad breath accompany these facial structure abnormalities.
“Children whose mouth breathing is left untreated for extended periods of time, can set the stage for lifelong respiratory problems and including, a less attractive face to name a few,” says Patrick McKeown in an article for the Oral Health Group. McKeown has written several books on reversing mouth breathing and gave a Ted Talk on the subject. “These resultant craniofacial alterations associated with mouth breathing can significantly aggravate or increase the risk of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea in both children and adults.”
2. Sleep disruption, sleep apnea and ADHD/ADD misdiagnoses. Anyone who breathes through their mouth at night has poorer quality of sleep and life, McKeown says. In children, this results in many misdiagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD).
“Adults usually become sluggish when tired while children tend to overcompensate and speed up,” he adds. “For this reason, sleep deprivation is sometimes confused with ADHD in children. Children may also be moody, emotionally explosive, and/or aggressive as a result of sleepiness.”
3. Sleep apnea. In adults, night mouth breathing contributes to or causes almost all obstructive sleep apnea hypopnea syndrome (OSAHS). Research shows that of the four phenotypes of OSAHS, only one is anatomical. This recent research explains that people with OSAHS typically have a mix of phenotypes and must be treated individually – no one treatment works for all. The study says that oral breathing is the primary condition leading to pharyngeal airway collapse. It also says that breathing re-education (BRE) is necessary to help people with sleep apnea.
“The foundation of BRE includes switching from oral breathing to nasal breathing during rest, exercise and sleep,” the study reads. “Oral and oro-nasal breathing is common in sleep apnea and increases with age. Once an individual reaches the age of 40 years, he or she is six times more likely to spend at least 50% of sleep time breathing through an open mouth.”
4. Dental problems and periodontal disease. A mouth breather carries their tongue in a low, downward position, so they can breathe more freely. This abnormal tongue activity puts excessive force on their teeth when they swallow, which may lead to crooked teeth, a poor bite, and periodontal disease. (The tongue should rest on the roof of the mouth with the lips sealed.)
5. Speech impediments. Children who are mouth breathers often have speech problems such as slurs, lisps, sound omissions, and articulation disorders because of the tongue thrust. Depending on the severity, they may need a speech pathologist to correct these problems.
6. Posture problems and muscle fatigue. Mouth breathers tend to carry their heads forward to compensate for airway restriction. This poor posture leads to neck pain, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) tension, spinal disc compression, early arthritis, tension headaches, and dental occlusal (bite) problems. It also tightens the muscles in the chest, making breathing even more difficult.
7. Reduced production of nitric oxide (NO) that contributes to many diseases and disfunctions. Enzymes in your nose and sinuses produce NO. It flows to your lungs and is absorbed into the blood. NO does many great things in the body. It dilates blood vessels, which decreases blood pressure and improves blood flow. It regulates inflammatory response and prevents blood clotting and obstructions in the arteries. It provides immune defense, enhances memory and learning, enables erectile function, protects the skin, regulates the bladder, improves gut function, promotes weight loss, relieves pain, protects the skin, and eases anxiety and depression.
Low nitric oxide contributes to diseases including high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, erectile disfunction, and digestive issues.
8. Increased anxiety and panic attacks. When we experience stress or anxiety, we tend to breathe fast and shallow. We may overcompensate by taking in more oxygen, breathing faster or through the mouth, possibly hyperventilating. This may increase anxiety and send more stress signals to your brain.
“Shortness of breath can be terrifying,” explains Real Life Counseling. “Feeling like you can’t get enough air into your lungs can intensify feelings of anxiety and create panic. Some people experiencing an attack can believe they are having a heart attack, further intensifying feelings of panic, and making breathing even more difficult.”
Recognizing the Signs of Mouth Breathing
You get it. Mouth breathing is bad. Really bad. How do you know if you or a loved one is a mouth breather? Here are some of the most common signs.
Snoring, dry mouth, dry lips, sore throat, morning headaches, cold symptoms, frequent sinus or respiratory infections, red or inflamed gums, periodontal disease, bad breath, cavities, poor sleep, digestive upset, foggy brain, and crowded teeth.
As mentioned above, signs in children may also include abnormal face structure, poor posture, speech impediments, inability to concentrate, hyperactivity, and the mouth visibly open while breathing.
Watch a person breath for three minutes and you will likely notice signs, McKeown explains. Professionals can do a Glatzel mirror test, in which a mirror is held under the nose while the person breathes, to see if the breath is exhaled symmetrically. This test checks for breathing obstructions like enlarged adenoids or a deviated septum. They may also do Massler’s water holding test to see how long a person can hold water in their mouth without swallowing.
Mouth breathing can stem from a deviated nasal septum, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, chronic colds, finger or thumb sucking, tongue tie, sinus polyps, or birth abnormalities like a cleft palate or Pierre Robin syndrome. A person can also develop a mouth breathing habit while sick and then continue to breathe though the mouth after recovery.
“A team of qualified professionals such as Pediatricians, Ear Nose and Throat Doctors, Orthodontists, Dentists, Dental Hygienists, Myofunctional Therapists, Buteyko Breathing Specialists, and Speech Pathologists to name a few; can help arrest the cascading effects associated with mouth breathing,” McKeown says.
Retrain Your Breathing at Home
In his Ted Talk, books, and lectures, McKeown talks about the Buteyko Breathing Method he learned at the Buteyko Clinic in Moscow, Russia. He was a mouth breather with asthma for 20 years. Medication didn’t help, but this breathing technique cured his asthma.
Since 2015, he’s been training elite athletes on optimal breathing and sharing what he knows with everyone. In this 10-minute video, he demonstrates the Buteyko method and how quickly it helps. He ascertains that if we can correct mouth breathing while awake, the body naturally continues nasal breathing during sleep. This method both retrains breathing and unblocks a nose clogged by allergies or non-allergic rhinitis.
Quoted from his article, the breathing technique goes like this:
- Take a small, silent breath in and let a small, silent breath out through your nose.
- Pinch your nose with your fingers to hold your breath.
- Walk as many paces as possible with your breath held. Try to build up a feeling of air shortage, without overdoing it of course!
- When you resume breathing, do so only through your nose; your breathing must be calmed immediately.
- After resuming your breathing, your first breath is likely to be larger than usual. Calm your breathing as soon as possible by suppressing your second and third breaths.
- You should be able to recover from this breath hold within two to three breaths. If not, you have held your breath for too long.
- Wait for a minute or so and repeat the exercise.
- Repeat this exercise five or six times until the nose is decongested.
Even if you’re not a mouth breather, you’ll likely notice a difference after trying this. If you’d like to work with a certified Buteyko practitioner, you can find them at this link on his Oxygen Advantage site.
If you notice that your tongue doesn’t rest at the top of your mouth or you snore, these tongue and face exercises offered by The Sleep Foundation can help.
McKeown insists that breathing retraining can drastically improve your life. Plus, it can prevent serious consequences in children! If you suspect a problem in yourself or a family member, please seek medical help today.