Many of us have at some point in our lives heard the term “mouth breather,” whether in our real lives or in the media we consume. The use of this word as an insult dates back to the 1940s and is based on the premise that breathing through the mouth leaves the jaw hanging open, thus creating a “dumb” looking expression.
Over the years, this term has kept its negative connotation, however, putting aside the derogatory term “mouth breather,” why is it bad to breathe through the mouth?
Why Mouth Breathing Happens
First, we need to establish how and why mouth breathing happens. Humans evolved to breathe through their nostrils as a survival technique — to breathe uninterruptedly while eating and drinking. However, there are many people who develop mouth breathing as they age. It is often caused by blocked nasal passages and shortness of breath that can result from anything as common as nasal allergies and congestion to rare tumors or genetic abnormalities affecting the nose.
So why is this bad? When breathing with the mouth open, it dries out the tissue lining the mouth and can result in altering the natural bacteria that live in your mouth and cause gum disease and tooth decay. Additionally, mouth breathing, when performed over a long period of time, can also cause some long-term aesthetic problems such as: dark spots under the eyes, an elongated face, narrow nostrils, droopy eyes, dry lips, trouble sealing lips, and an open bite, among others.
Nose Breathing vs. Mouth Breathing
Now that we have addressed mouth breathing, we can move on to comparing the two methods. So what exactly are the benefits of nasal breathing?
Air is processed differently in the nose than it is in the mouth, and experts agree that the way that the processing works in the nose is safer and healthier than how air is processed through the mouth. Breathing through the nose allows it to control temperature and humidify incoming air, filter toxins, sense of smell, and improve lung capacity.
First, because the inhaled air must travel through the nasal passages, it is given time to warm or cool to the ideal temperature for your lungs. Additionally, the nose humidifies the air that it inhales, whereas the mouth does not, often resulting in a dry or sore throat for those who typically breathe through their mouths during sleep.
Another benefit of nasal breathing is filtering toxins out of the air we inhale. Nose hairs’ express purpose is to filter out foreign particles and toxins so when we breathe through our mouths we are risking a much larger opportunity for particles to slip through. Another aspect of the nose that helps filter out toxins is actually our sense of smell. Your nose can often identify toxins that are harmful to your body in the air or our food where your mouth cannot do this effectively.
And last, breathing through your nose actually allows more air into your lungs than when you breathe through your mouth which helps to improve your lung capacity. This is simply because when we breathe through our mouths they get dry and we have to take shorter breaths to avoid this, whereas our nose does not have this problem. Nasal breathing can actually have tremendous effects on your athletic performance since it is much more efficient in distributing oxygen throughout your muscle groups.
How to Stop Mouth Breathing
Finding the proper method for you to stop mouth breathing will depend heavily on the cause of your mouth breathing. For example, if you have noticed that you are breathing through your mouth a lot more and you have recently gotten a new allergy to something, you may just need to simply get allergy medicine.
If you have a more severe cause, like sleep apnea, you may need to go to a doctor to find a solution. Moderate cases of sleep apnea often can be resolved by avoiding certain sleeping pills and alcohol, losing excess weight, taking medication for congestion, or using special pillows. More severe cases on the other hand may require use of a special machine that goes over your face that provides gentle air pressure through your nose and mouth while you sleep.
If the reason for your breathing through the mouth is directly caused by the shape of your nose or face then you may not be able to treat it directly. However, if the cause of your mouth breathing is due to another underlying condition, such as constant allergies, sickness, or sleep apnea, then your doctor can work with you to treat that underlying condition first, and then work with you on changing your breathing habits.
Nasal breathing is essential to maintaining the health of our gums, teeth, and the tissue of our mouths. Additionally, processing air through our nasal passages allows us to regulate temperature and filter out foreign materials before the air reaches our lungs thus keeping our bodies healthier.
This being said, there are times when breathing through the mouth is necessary, for example, if your nose is congested due to allergies or a cold or if you are performing intense exercise. It is important though that we recognize that these are specific occasions where it is necessary to depart from the norm of nasal breathing and breathe through the mouth.