It is perfectly natural to breathe through your mouth at certain times, such as when lifting a heavy load, or running. Breathing through the mouth most of the time, however, can cause health problems. These problems can be especially severe for children because mouth-breathing can affect the long-term growth and development of the face. It is important that the reasons for mouth breathing, and why it is important to correct it, are understood.
Air is something nobody can live without! Most of us bring air into our body through our nose. The nose is designed to act as a natural humidifier and filtering system for the air we breathe. When we can't get enough air through our nose, however, the mouth takes over. Breathing through the mouth is perfectly natural occasionally. Yet breathing through the mouth most of the time was not nature's intent. When this happens, serious problems can occur.
Mouth Breathing and Your Health
Mouth breathing can affect a number of bodily functions and can lead to symptoms such as headaches, dry mouth, sore throat, bad breath, poor sleep, chronic fatigue, and ear pressure and fullness.
Over time, mouth breathing can also affect:
- The position of your teeth and your bite
- Your facial features
- Your posture
Why Breathe Through the Mouth?
Why would anyone breathe through the mouth? The most obvious reason is when we can't get enough air through the nose. Common reasons for blocked nasal passages include:
- Allergies which may cause polyps or swelling
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- Respiratory infections (such as a cold or the flu)
Indications of airway obstruction include:
- Snoringsounding 'stuffy' during the day or night
- Frequent sore throats
- Dark circles under the eyes
Using the mouth for breathing disrupts our natural body mechanics. This would be less of a problem for animals. Since the heads of four-legged animals are horizontal to the ground, gravity helps to bring the throat muscles down and keep the airway open. By standing upright, man creates a need to maintain the airway. We do so through a complex network of cartilage and muscles in the throat. After air passes through our nostrils, it goes into our pharynx. The pharynx is located just behind the nasal cavity and is the passageway for both food and air. The tongue is the large muscle which does much of the work to keep this passage open, in combination with the soft palate which rests upon it. The lower jaw serves as a support for the tongue and related structures just below the neck.
Mouth Breathing Affects the Teeth, Jaw, and Posture
We typically use the jaw and tongue for eating, swallowing, and speaking. When used for breathing, we must make postural adjustments. Chronic mouth breathers tend to bring their head forward in front of their shoulders and tilted back to maintain an open airway. Try it yourself, while letting your tongue relax. Notice that this posture pulls the jaw down and back. It also changes the position of the tongue. The tongue is pulled down so that it no longer produces any force against the upper arch of the teeth. Without this force, the developing upper jaw does not fully grow and the nasal cavity becomes constricted. Since the upper jaw also happens to be the lower part of the nasal cavity, you can see how one affects the other. What started out to be a problem with your nose also becomes a problem with your bite.
Serious Implications for Children
Even worse, when children chronically breathe through their mouth, it can affect the overall growth and development of their face. A typical facial profile is associated with people who have a long history of mouth breathing. It is a narrow face with a forward head posture, a narrowed or flattened nose with nostrils that are small and poorly developed, a short upper lip, and a 'pouting' lower lip.
What To Do?
If you or your child habitually breathe through the mouth, it is important to inform both your dentist and physician. The dentist will be concerned with correcting the bite. However, a proper bite cannot be attained until normal nasal breathing is established. This typically must be corrected by an Allergist or an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. Both the bite and the nasal passageway should be taken into consideration. This is why it is important that your dentist and physician work together.