“Mouth-breather!” It’s a term people might fling as an insult or say as a joke, but breathing through the mouth is more common than you may think, and has some very serious health consequences.
There are many reasons someone may begin breathing more from the mouth than the nose including, having a deviated septum, stress, anxiety and just bad habit. The natural way to breathe is through the nose, in a slow and quiet manner, with the abdomen expanding on the inhale and contracting on the exhale. This kind of breathing signals the parasympathetic nervous system, which is your calm and relaxed nervous system. Mouth breathing on the other hand has a list of negative effects. Here are some:
- Breathing through the mouth has been proven to significantly increase the likelihood of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.
- Mouth breathing can cause bad breath, because of altered bacterial population in the mouth.
- Breathing through the mouth dries the tongue, teeth and gums; consequently, levels of acid in the mouth can lead to tooth decay and gum problems.
- Another undesirable consequence of mouth breathing, especially when asleep, is dehydration – it’s common that those who are mouth breathing sleepers awake with a dry mouth. That just sounds uncomfortable!
- Research has drawn connections between mouth breathing and asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and other respiratory problems.
- Sports performance can suffer from mouth breathing; when we inhale and exhale through the mouth, oxygen uptake in the lungs can go down, decreasing performance.
Evolution or Dysevolution?
Research done by Dentists, Otorhinolaryngologists, and Archeologists have shown that as we have evolved, our nasal cavities and dental arches have changed greatly causing a higher percentage of mouth breathing. Our faces have begun to deform. Today, our skulls are marked by high, narrow palates, short lower jaws and, often, insufficient space. When children drop their baby teeth, there’s typically inadequate room for the adult teeth, which leads to crowding and misaligned teeth. Worst of all, this anatomy encourages mouth-breathing, which can, in turn, lead to under-the-radar sleep difficulties and a whole array of problems ranging from behavioral challenges, anxiety, and depression, to cognitive issues. (1)
Mouth Breathing Is Most Risky for Children
Children who breathe through their mouths are at the greatest risk of oxygen deprivation (greater risk of abnormal facial structure (long face syndrome), forward head posture, and impaired respiratory strength.
In children, the harmful effects of mouth breathing are far greater, since it is during the formative childhood years that breathing helps to shape the nasal and facial structures and airways along with physiologic health. Mouth breathing can be tied to sleeplessness and some believe that this sleeplessness is often mis-diagnosed as ADHD in children. (2)
The National Sleep Foundation reports, “Children and adults behave differently as a result of sleepiness. Adults usually become sluggish when tired while children tend to overcompensate and speed up. 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. In a study involving 2,463 children aged 6-15, children with sleep problems were more likely to be inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive, and display oppositional behaviors.” (2)(3)
Another study published in the International Journal of Pediatrics investigating the long-term changes to facial structure caused by chronic mouth breathing noted that this seemingly ‘benign’ habit “has in fact immediate and/or latent cascading effects on multiple physiological and behavioral functions.” Therefore, with this in mind, mouth breathing can have a tremendous impact on the mental and physical health of children; as it can be associated with the restriction of the lower airways, poor quality of sleep, reduced cognitive functioning and a lower quality of life. (4)
Now for some good news, here are some of the benefits of breathing properly through your nose:
- Nose breathing, especially the resistance to airflow that comes from exhaling through your nose, keeps the air in your lungs a little longer. This can increase the amount of oxygen that enters your bloodstream with each breath as much as 20 per- cent.
- Much more than your mouth and throat, the nasal passages are designed to warm and humidify the air you inhale. The temperature of your breath can rise more than 40°F on the way from your nose to your lungs. This is especially important in cold weather.
- Breathing through the nose helps remove a significant share of germs, irritants and bacteria from each lungful of air you breathe.
- Nitric oxide (NO), which plays an important part in immune response and the regulation of vascular tension, is produced in the nasal airways and carried into the lungs with each (nasal) breath we take. Nasal nitric oxide (NO) acts as our body’s first line of defense against airborne pathogens. (see references below). Nitric Oxide also plays an important role in reducing high blood pressure, maintaining homeostasis, immune defense and neurotransmission. (5)
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1) Our Skulls are out evolving us: https://onezero.medium.com/our-skulls-are-out-evolving-us-and-that-could-mean-a-public-health-crisis-f950faed696d
2) “ADHD and Sleep.” ADHD & Sleep Problems-National Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation, 2017. Web. 11 Feb.2017.
3) Shur-Fen Gau S. Prevalence of sleep problems and their association with inattention/hyperactivity among children aged 6-15 in Taiwan.J Sleep Res. 2006 Dec;15(4):403-14.
4. Trabalon M, Schaal B. It Takes a Mouth to Eat and a Nose to Breathe: Abnormal Oral Respiration Affects Neonates’ Oral Competence and Systemic Adaptation. International Journal of Pediatrics. 2012. (207605 ):10 pages)
And See: Yu-Shu Huang & Christian Guilleminault, “Pediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnea and the Critical Role of Oral Facial Growth : Evidences, Frontiers in Neurology 3, no. 184Acta
And Borres MP. Allergic rhinitis: more than just a stuffy nose. Acta Paediatrica. 2009 Jul;98(7):1088-92)
- Chang H R. Nitric Oxide, the Mighty Molecule: Its Benefits for Your Health and Well-Being. 1st ed. United States. ; 2011
- More Research on this Subject That May Interest You
A) Valdenice Aparecida de menaces et al., Prevalence & Factors Related to Mouth Breathing in School Children at the Santo Amaro Project – Recife, 2005
B) Prevalence of Mouth Breathing Among Children – Journal de Pediatria 84, no. 5
Evolution or Dysevolution
A) Karina Camillo Carrascoza et al. “Consequences of Bottle feeding to the Oral Facial development of Initially Breastfed Children” Journal de Pediatria 82 no. 5. ppl 395-97
B) Theresa Hales book: Breathing Free (NY: Harmony, 1999) Dr. Leo Galland, Fellow of the American College of Nutrition & Amer. College of Physicians described exactly how the ways in which we breathe directly affect health.
And read; Jeff Wheelwright, “From Diabetes to Athlete’s Foot, Our Bodies are Maladapted for Modern Life,” Discover April 2, 2015, http://discovermagazine.com/2015/may/16-days-of-dysevolution.
Read More About Mouth Breathing and Children
A) Conti PB, Sakano E, Ribeiro MA, Schivinski CI, Ribeiro JD. Assessment of the body posture of mouth-breathing children and adolescents. Journal Pediatrics (Rio J). 2011 Jul-Aug;87(4):471-9.
B) Damaging Effects of Forward Head Posture.(2015, January 22). Retrieved from http://www.denvertechchiro.com/files/fhp_revised.pdf
Mouth breathing & Apnea, changes to the physical body and other research
A) Cristina Grippaudo et al., “Association between Oral Habits, Mouth Breathing and Malocclusion,” Otorhinolaryngologica Italica 36, no. 5
B) Patrick McKeown and Martha Macaluso, “Mouth Breathing: Physical, Mental and Emotional Consequences, Central Jersey Dental Sleep Medicine, Mar. 9, 2017
Noriko Tsubamoto -Sano et. al, “Influences of Mouth Breathing on Memory and Learning Ability in Growing Rats,” Journal of Oral Science 61, no. 1 (2019)
C) Kevin L. Boyd and Darius Loghmanee, “Inattention, Hyperactivity, Snoring and Restless Sleep: My Child’s Dentist Can Help” a slide show with references at the 3rd Annual Autism, Behavior, and Complex Medical Needs Conference.
D) Sleep Apnea: http://www.columbianeurology.org/neurology/staywell/document.php?id=42066 & see “Rising Prevalence of Sleep Apnea in US Threatens Public Health” press release by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Sept. 29, 2014.
E) Steven Y . Park, MD Sleep Interrupted: A Physician Reveals the #1 Reason So Many of us are Sick and Tired ( NY : Jodev Press, 2008) p. 26
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