Mouth breathing is common in children and adults, especially when chronic allergies or other illnesses are involved. At first, mouth breathing seems like a quirk, and many people assume that it’s only as an issue with snoring.
Since mouth-breathing can be caused by factors outside of a patient’s control, like a deviated septum or enlarged tonsils, it’s easy for patients to assume nothing can be done about it.
Unfortunately, mouth breathing isn’t just an aesthetic or quality-of-life issue - it can cause or exacerbate a range of health issues and should be corrected as soon as possible. Breathing through the mouth while exercising or during a bad bout of illness is not a problem, but studies show that habitual mouth breathing can take its toll over time.
Allergy medications, chin straps for use at night, or other over-the-counter solutions are easy to implement to improve mouth breathing.
1. Facial Deformities
Breathing through the mouth on a regular basis can result in deformities in the jaw and teeth. The effects on chin and smile can have a lifelong impact on self-confidence. Lack of sleep can have long-term impacts on school performance.
If your child is breathing through his or her mouth on a regular basis, consult with a doctor about possible causes, since facial deformities are hard to correct later. Braces may not be able to reverse the damage. Enlarged tonsils and other causes aren’t easily diagnosed by a layperson, so even if you think the cause is only allergies, double-check with a doctor to make sure you aren’t missing other factors.
2. Increased Risk of Illness and Asthma Symptoms
Your nose contains natural filters to help remove microbes from the air. Breathing through the mouth bypasses these filters and can allow illnesses to enter your body. This is of critical concern during flu season but can have a negative impact on your life year-round. Asthma patients may even see an increase in symptoms since mouth breathing allows even more airborne particles to trigger asthma attacks.
3. Poor Posture
Mouth breathing causes posture habits that can have a detrimental effect over time. These effects aren’t just limited to your neck - they can extend down your spine into your upper back. While these posture issues aren’t as permanent as facial deformities, they can still be difficult to correct later in life.
4. Low Blood Oxygen
Did you know that your nose plays a critical role in helping your body absorb oxygen? Your nose creates nitric oxide, a compound that your lungs and blood vessels use to process oxygen efficiently. Breathing through your mouth impacts your body chemistry and can reduce how much oxygen reaches your brain, heart, and muscles. The resulting stress on your heart can increase fatigue.
5. Increased Fatigue and Disrupted Sleep
People who breathe through their mouths don’t always realize they’re doing it, especially when they’re sleeping. Some of this disrupted sleep can be caused by snoring, but sometimes the discomfort caused by mouth dryness or awkward jaw positioning directly prevents patients from sleeping properly. Naturally, this can create problems with fatigue and inability to focus during the day. There is also a relationship between mouth breathing and obstructive sleep apnea, but it appears that most sleep apnea cases cause mouth breathing and not the other way around.
Salivary glands can’t keep up with the constant evaporation of saliva caused by mouth breathing. The resulting mouth dryness can increase acidity and hinder the mouth’s self-cleaning abilities, accelerating the creation of cavities. While adequate tooth-brushing can minimize this risk, mouth breathing will still increase your chances of getting cavities in the long-term.
7. Gum Disease and Bad Breath
Just like cavities, gum disease and bad breath are also impacted by a lack of saliva and increase in acidity caused by mouth breathing. These issues aren’t easily fixed with minty gum or a quick trip to the dentist, either. A long-term habit like mouth breathing causes long-term side effects, and patients may continue to experience bad breath even after the mouth breathing habit has been fixed.
Many of these symptoms can be mitigated with swift action. Even if you’re elderly and have been mouth breathing for decades, it’s not too late to prevent further problems.
For many patients, mouth breathing can be addressed by starting or changing allergy medications or wearing a chinstrap while sleeping. Habitual mouth breathing that doesn’t have a physiological cause can also be addressed with yoga and breathing exercises. Severe cases of mouth breathing caused by a deviated septum or other sinus problems may require surgery, but that should only be explored as a last resort.