The effects of mouth breathing on your oral and overall health

Do you know that?

Normal breathing takes place exclusively through the nose. Indeed, mouth breathing may seem normal, but it can have negative effects on your oral and general health in the short and long term.

mouth breathing effects

What is mouth breathing?

Mouth breathing is the act of inhaling and exhaling air through the mouth.
Every day, we breathe in between 12,000 and 36,000 liters of air through our nose, depending on our mass and our effort. This is almost the amount of air it takes to inflate a castle.

A normal person breathes exclusively through the nose at rest or during light exercise and uses his mouth during intense physical exercise to oxygenate his body. So, if you keep your mouth open all the time to breathe, you are certainly a mouth breather.

The effects of mouth breathing on your oral and overall health

Effects on your oral health

One of the most common effects of mouth breathing is dry mouth. Saliva plays an important role in maintaining good oral health because it:

  • Protects our teeth against bacteria and plaque by preventing them from attaching to dental surfaces;
  • Reduces the number of unwanted bacteria in our mouth;
  • Protects our gums against aggressions by lubricating them;
  • Regulates the acidity of the mouth.

So it is very common to see in mouth breathers a high frequency of cavities and gingivitis due to the absence of the protective role of saliva.
When there is insufficient saliva, the composition of the oral flora will be disturbed, the bacteria that produce unpleasant odors will multiply, which causes halitosis.

Furthermore, the position of the tongue is influenced by mouth breathing. Indeed, the tongue has an important role in the growth of the jaws. If the mouth is open, the tongue will end up in the wrong place in the mouth. A bad position of the tongue will lead to a pathological growth of the jawbones. The upper jaw ends up being small, the teeth not finding enough space will overlap.
The lower part of the face will develop more than the rest of the face, which requires orthodontic treatment.

Tongue in an abnormal position can also influence the articulation of certain sounds, such as "s-z".

Effects on your general health

  • Infections: Our nose filters the inhaled air and thus prevents access to many viruses/bacteria. Therefore, people who breathe through their mouths are more susceptible to infections since the nose is not used to block germs.

  • Mouth breathing and COVID-19

    Studies have shown that nasal breathing “may help to reduce SARS-CoV-2 viral load and symptoms of COVID-19 pneumonia by promoting more efficient antiviral defense mechanisms in the respiratory tract thanks to nitrogen oxide which is formed in the sinuses paranasal and is transported automatically to the lungs when we breathe through the nose.

  • Sleep disorder: People who breathe through their mouths have less restful sleep because they will snore more and feel like they are continually thirsty. Also, mouth breathing has an oxygenation rate of 15% lower than nasal breathing, which makes sleep less restorative.

  • Difficulty eating: People who breathe through their mouths find it difficult to chew food because they have to block their breathing during this time, which can affect the way these people eat resulting in digestive problems.

Find out if you are a mouth breather

Many symptoms mean you are a mouth breather. The mouth itself is the first to suffer.
The gums are often red and chronically inflamed, even with proper oral hygiene. Adults who breathe through their mouths can easily bleed from the gums, or suffer from frequent cavities. Another sign is the feeling of dryness and itching in the back of the throat upon waking, or a burning sensation, as well as chronic bad breath.

Other signs can also confirm that you are a mouth breather:

  • The effects of sleep disorder including snoring, chronic fatigue, morning headaches.
  • A pinched nose and dark circles.
  • Crowded teeth.
  • Phonetic problem.
  • Digestive issues.

Why it's important to breathe through your nose?

It is important to breathe through your nose because it helps filter the air in and keep dust and dirt particles, and even germs and pathogens, from entering the body. Also, when breathing through the nose, the air temperature is regulated by body temperature before reaching the lungs. When the air outside is cold, it is heated, and when it is hot outside, the inspired air is cooled and humidified as it passes through the nose. Besides, nasal breathing allows better oxygenation of the organs with a rate higher than 15% thanks to nitric oxide, which is formed in the paranasal sinuses and which is transported automatically to the lungs when you breathe through your nose. This is because nitric oxide widens blood vessels and makes it easier to saturate the blood with oxygen, so organs are better supplied with oxygen. The body regenerates better, and your sleep is of better quality.

Causes of mouth breathing

The primary cause of mouth breathing is due to a partially or fully blocked nasal pathway (nasal obstruction). Risk factors of a blocked nose include the following:

  • Nasal congestion and a "stuffy nose," which can be caused by a cold, sinus infection, or allergies
  • Jaw size and shape
  • Nose size and shape
  • Enlarged tonsils, turbinates, and/or adenoids
  • A deviated septum
  • Benign tissue growths in the nose (nasal polyps) or tumor (rare)
  • Other oral conditions such as crowded teeth

Adults and the elderly can breathe through their mouths after taking medication. Stress and anxiety are also important factors to consider, they activate the sympathetic nervous system which results in abnormal breathing.

Solutions for mouth breathing

Treatment depends on the diagnosis made by your doctor. If nasal congestion is due to colds and allergies, these medications may help:

  • Nasal decongestants
  • Antihistamines
  • Prescription or over-the-counter steroid nasal sprays

If you can breathe through your nose without difficulty but continue to breathe through your mouth, especially at night, you can use an anti-snoring mouthpiece. This appliance attaches to the upper jaw at night. It helps keep your mouth shut while you sleep, preventing any mouth breathing. It thus effectively eliminates snoring caused by the mouth.
To use these devices, it is essential that you can breathe properly through your nose, otherwise your air supply may be interrupted occasionally while you sleep. To prevent problems with nasal breathing, you can also combine the mouthpiece with a nasal dilator, for example. You can also use an air humidifier while you sleep to help prevent dry mouth.

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor will likely have you wear a face-mask appliance at night called continuous positive air pressure therapy (CPAP).
A CPAP appliance delivers air to your nose and mouth through a mask. The pressure of the air keeps your airways from collapsing and becoming blocked.

In children, surgical removal of swollen tonsils and adenoids can treat mouth breathing.

Another solution is to re-educate your breathing. Rehabilitation is difficult when you are an adult because habit is hard to get rid of and the deformed jaws maintain this pathological breathing. For this reason and because of all its bad effects, prevention is the best option. First, visit an ENT to check that there is no obstacle to nasal breathing. Regular rehabilitation at the speech therapist of the position of the tongue and breathing, allows the brain to integrate new habits.