Mouth Breathing and How it Affects Your Health

Mouth Breathing

It is perfectly natural to breathe through your mouth at certain times, such as when lifting a heavy load or exercising. Breathing through the mouth most of the time, however, can cause health problems. These problems can be especially severe for children because it can affect the long-term development of the face.

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 most of the time was not nature’s intent. When this happens, problems can occur.

Why Would Someone Mouth Breathe?

Mouth breathing is a postural habit that can develop for numerous reasons. Below are the most common:

  1. Allergies
  2. Thumb or finger sucking habit
  3. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
  4. Chronic nasal congestion
  5. Respiratory infection

Each of these five factors make it physically impossible for a person to nasal breathe. If nasal breathing is not possible, the body’s only choice is to mouth breathe.

Mouth breathing changes the way the tongue works—it develops a “tongue thrust.” A tongue thrust affects speech, swallowing, breathing, and chewing in problematic ways.

Facial Growth and Development

Believe it or not, breathing through your mouth can actually change the shape of your face and alter your appearance. This is especially true for children because they are still growing. Children whose mouth breathing goes untreated may suffer from abnormal facial and dental development. Symptoms 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. A “mouth breather” facial expression is typically not viewed as an attractive or desirable appearance to have.

Other Effects on the Body

Using the mouth for breathing disrupts our natural body mechanics. It can affect a number of bodily functions and lead to symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Gingivitis and gum disease
  • Sore throat and cold symptoms
  • Bad breath and higher risk for cavities
  • Poor sleep—leading to chronic fatigue
  • Digestive disturbances—gas, upset stomach, acid reflux, etc.

The stem of the problem in many cases is oxygen deprivation. When we take in air through the mouth, less oxygen is able to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Poor sleeping habits often result from lower oxygen levels. In children, this can adversely affect growth and academic performance. It has even been connected to ADD and ADHD symptoms.

In adults, poor oxygen concentration in the bloodstream has been associated with high blood pressure, heart problems, sleep apnea and other medical issues.

Mouth breathing causes posture changes as well. In order to open the airway, the head rests in a forward position and the shoulders slump. This in unhealthy for the spine.

Mouth breathing can also affect the position of your teeth and your bite. The resting posture of the lips and position of the tongue have also been shown to cause problems with the orthodontic treatment—time spent in braces can be longer, and the chance for relapse after the braces are removed is higher.

What Can Be Done to Treat Mouth Breathing

Mouth breathing may seem like an easy habit to change. Just close your mouth, right?

Unfortunately, for the people who struggle with mouth breathing, it is not that easy. This is because all of the muscles of the face and mouth have been programmed to help them breathe in a dysfunctional manner. Their body does not know how to breathe normally.

In order to stop mouth breathing, the muscles must be “re-trained” to function in new ways.

A Myofunctional Therapist (MFT) can be an instrumental figure in helping you learn to breathe in a healthy way. MFTs are skilled at helping children and adults gain control over muscle patterning habits, including those involved in mouth breathing.

A consultation with a MFT can be very valuable. If the muscles are not re-trained, problems with general health, speech, orthodontic treatment, dental health, swallowing and breathing may persist throughout life.

Myofunctional Therapy is needed to make the muscular changes associated with mouth breathing.

12 Responses to “Mouth Breathing and How it Affects Your Health”

  1. Cami April 14, 2013 6:54 pm #

    I am a 50+, female, (mostly) former mouth-breather myself, who was a blue-baby (meconium aspiration), fingersucker, tongue-thruster with allergies, severe asthma, etc. I have the classic face with the recessed chin. I had to have 8 teeth removed from my mouth before getting braces because my mouth was so overcrowded from not growing correctly. I had sinus surgery to open up my severely compromised sinus system (I had only 20% of the normal sinus space and that was filled with yeast) almost 10 years ago. It was very painful but also very successful. To anyone considering that surgery, I would warn you that recovery is tough but I would so it all again for the outcome of being able to breathe with my mouth closed! My issue is retraining: after so many years of mouth-breathing it is difficult to retrain myself, especially when breathing heavily (as when climbing a hill), and while sleeping. I just wonder what my face would have looked like if it had developed correctly, and whether or not I would have had less physical ailments over the years if this had been corrected early. No sense wasting the time, I know, but I still wonder…

    • Sarah April 17, 2013 6:48 pm #

      Thank you very much for your comment and for sharing about your history. You sound very similar to many of my patients. You are correct, it takes a lot of practice to retrain your breathing, and tongue position can play a large role in making it an easier process. This is where myofunctional therapy would be helpful for someone like you. Retraining your breathing, tongue posture, swallowing pattern, and general posture would have been ideal for your recovery 10 years ago. My hope is that someday myofunctional therapy can be done in conjunction with many types of nasal/airway surgeries. I am glad you are able to breath better now :-) All my best to you! Sarah

  2. james April 26, 2013 1:52 pm #

    I was unable to breathe throgh my nose throughout childhood and had an operation at 11 to correct this (not sure what it was). However u was given no training on how to actually breathe through my nose and have never done so since – I am now aged 22. My teeth are over crowed and my jaw has not formed properly being narrow at the bottom and too far back, too narrow at the top and teeth do not meet when I bite together. I suffer from sore throats, ulcers and stomach upsets alot. What are he first steps of getting to see a therapist as I woukd really like to try and breathe through my nose.

  3. Eleanor May 31, 2013 5:00 pm #

    This is all very interesting for me to read. I am 25 and have breathed through my mouth my whole life; I don’t know why, although I did used to suck my thumb a lot as a child. My lower jaw is further back from my top, giving me the (apparently classic) overbite which I have always been very insecure about. As a teenager my orthodontist suggested an operation to move my lower jaw forward, but I felt that this would make me look very square jawed and unnatural. I have recently tried to correct my mouth breathing and ensure I breath only through my nose but I often feel as though I am not getting enough breath and after a few hours my jaw starts to ache. What can you suggest as I am starting to feel a bit hopeless! : (

  4. Mark October 6, 2013 8:25 am #

    I have long face syndrome and I been a mouth breather all my life and now I’m 17. And for a month I started to breath through my nose. Will breathing through my nose now, make my face smaller? Or atleast make it normal a little bit? PLEASE ANSWER.

  5. Leah October 16, 2013 1:35 am #

    I breathe through my mouth all the time. I don’t find it difficult to breathe through my nose, I just find that I get more oxygen when breathing on through the mouth. I have never had any allergies or dental problems?

  6. Norma January 31, 2014 2:18 pm #

    My husband is always telling me “do you realize how heavy you are breathinh” I never notice this. I have a habit of breathing through my mouth as I feel like I get more oxygen into my lungs by mouth breathing. I do have asthma attacks maybe every 6 months. I know when I lend down to pick up something that drop off bed that I have to breath hard thru my mouth to get enough air into my lungs to breath. I

  7. Lauren February 4, 2014 4:20 pm #

    I have always wondered why my face shape is so different now than when I was a child. I have a receding jaw, overcrowded teeth, super long slim face (was short and wide as a young child), have a different shaped nose, receding small top lip, forward slanting neck position, sunken cheeks and crowded teeth . I also have super chronic gas and reflux which I developed at around 14/15 (for seemingly no reason) I also started snoring and ceasing breathing during sleep during puberty. All for apparently no reason apart from ‘reaching puberty’ or ‘getting older.’ I was a very cute child with perfect facial feature, people always told my parent to watch out because I was going to be an absolute stunner and would probably become a model later in life. The from around 13 year onwards everything switched. I was teased mercilessly for my looks and not only did my physical features transform, but my health just started going down hill for no apparent reason. I used to beg my parents as a teenager to tell me why I changed so much and begged them to pay for all sorts of plastic surgery because it was their fault. How come the negative cosmetic, physical health and even mental health problems that can never be reversed from constantly mouth breathing are not something that are made warnings to parents? Why were many doctors aware that I always mouth-breathed basically from infancy, but never told my parents that it would affect me in any way? It took me several years of research and searching to discover what had caused so many changes in me and my parents had never even known that it was a problem to breath through your mouth! It really upsets me that a lot of my problems could have been prevented, but now it’s too late unless I undergo serious, painful and expensive surgery

  8. Jennifer March 16, 2014 11:30 am #

    I was surprised not to see deviated septum listed as a common cause of mouth-breathing. People can be born with a deviated septum, or it can develop following a nasal fracture or after surgery, including rhinoplasty (cosmetic surgery for the nose). The Indian practice of Ayurvedic medicine has emphasized the importance of breathing through the nose for thousands of years, and I believe it’s part of the traditional yogic practice. It’s interesting to see ourselves returning to the teachings of an earlier times, and to consider what wisdom ancient people may have known that is now lost, and must be rediscovered.

  9. Dennis April 5, 2014 10:04 am #

    Hi, thanks for this update, i have a 5 yr old chronic mouth breather who has developed the typical face of a mouther breath, he has dental cavities and has had 2 teeth removed already. He also ha GIT problems of gas and abdominal pain. My ENT surgeon plans to have him operated for enlarged adenoids. What is the likelihood that his current complications will correct?

    I will appreciate your response because i need to make this decision for surgery.
    Regards

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