YOU MAY HAVE heard the insult “mouth-breather” in recent years thanks to the popularity of the show Stranger Things. There are actually many good health reasons to avoid breathing through your mouth if nose breathing is possible. We should consider mouth breathing an emergency backup, not our main way to breathe. In both the short term and the long term, mouth breathing has negative health effects.
The Short-Term Effects of Mouth Breathing
There are several negative effects of mouth breathing that kick in either immediately or very quickly. A major one is lower oxygen levels. When we breathe through our noses, we trigger nitric oxygen production, which helps our lungs absorb oxygen. Mouth breathing skips this process, making it harder to get the most out of each breath, resulting in less oxygen absorbed and less energy for mental and physical tasks. Other short-term effects include:
- Impaired speech: when the mouth is always open, it can make certain sounds more difficult to say, particularly for children.
- Lethargy, irritability, and inattention: getting less oxygen means sleeping worse and having a harder time focusing at work or school. This can seriously impact kids’ learning.
- Dry mouth: breathing through the mouth, unsurprisingly, dries it out. This is a problem because saliva is the first line of defense against oral bacteria. We also need it to use our sense of taste effectively and speak clearly.
The Effects of Mouth Breathing Compound Over Time
The short-term effects are already unpleasant, but a mouth-breathing habit can lead to worse issues if it continues, including serious developmental effects for kids who grow up with this habit.
- Increased likelihood of sleep apnea: this sleep disorder comes with a wide range of health complications of its own, including chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as low energy, poor concentration, and a weakened immune system.
- Altered facial development: when a child’s mouth is closed, their tongue exerts pressure on their dental arches, helping them to develop correctly. A mouth-breathing habit takes that pressure away and leads to narrower arches, flat features, drooping eyes, and a small chin.
- More complex orthodontic problems: that altered facial development will often include a lot of dental crowding and other issues that require orthodontic treatment to correct.
- Tooth decay and halitosis (chronic bad breath): over time, these are likely results of dry mouth. Saliva helps neutralize oral pH when we consume acidic foods or drinks or when harmful bacteria produce acid, so without saliva, we tend to have worse breath and become more susceptible to tooth decay.
It’s Time to Break the Mouth-Breathing Habit!
Some people breathe through their mouths because of a problem with regular nose-breathing, like a deviated septum or a sinus infection, but anyone who can comfortably breathe through their nose should try to do that as their default option. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about mouth breathing and its impacts on oral health.