During strenuous activity, such as exercising, it is inevitable that we breathe through our mouths. However, breathing through our mouths most of the time can have a major impact on the body causing health problems.
Mouth breathing begins when we aren’t able to get enough air intake through the nose. This forces us to breathe through the mouth as a necessity to take in more air which may become a life-long habit if it is not corrected.
It is important to know that mouth breathing and having an open mouth posture mean the same thing and are equally damaging to your health.
What Causes Mouth Breathing?
The most common causes of mouth breathing are:
- Chronic Nasal Congestion
- Allergies and/or food sensitivities
- Enlarged Tonsils and Adenoids
- Deviated Septum
- Nasal Polyps
Each of these factors make it almost impossible for a person the nasal breathe. If nasal breathing is not possible then the body automatically resorts to mouth breathing.
How Does Mouth Breathing Affect the Body?
Mouth breathing has many effects on the mouth and body:
Mouth breathing changes the way to tongue works and where it rests in the mouth.
Your tongue should naturally rest in the roof of the mouth but when the mouth is open the tongue resides in the floor of the mouth. This leads to underdeveloped oral musculature and can causes issues with swallowing, speech, 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 will always appear together. In other words, if you breathe through your mouth you will also have a tongue thrust swallowing pattern.
Facial Growth and Development
Interestingly, breathing through your mouth can actually change the shape of your face and alter your appearance.
This is especially true in children as 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 cheek bones, small lower jaws, and weak chins. Other facial symptoms include gummy smiles and crooked teeth.
Other Effects on the Body
Using the mouth for breathing disrupts our natural body mechanics. In many cases, the root of the problem is oxygen deprivation which can affect many bodily functions and and lead to symptoms such as:
- Gingivitis and gum disease
- Sore throat and cold symptoms
- Bad breath
- Increased risk for 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 blood stream has been associated with high blood pressure, heart problems, sleep apnea and other medical issues.
In addition, breathing through the mouth can lead to postural changes and spinal issues. When the tongue is in the wrong position, the head tends to jut forward causing the shoulders to slump. When the mouth rests open it is difficult to sit up straight.
The Teeth and Braces
Mouth breathing can also affect the position of your teeth and your bite. When themouth is open, the lips are weak which creates a lack of external support for the teeth. The tongue is simultaneously pushing forward progressively moving the teeth over time.
This can cause an issue with orthodontic treatment. Duration 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; however, 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 a myofunctional therapist, my goals are to help you retrain your muscles and to help you stop breathing through your mouth. When patients switch from mouth breathing to nasal breathing, the changes to their health and quality of life can be astounding.