What is mouth breathing?
Simply stated, it is breathing through the mouth instead of the nose. This may seem innocent, but there are detrimental life quality effects for those who breathe through their mouth. On average we breathe about 20,000 times a day. That is 20,000 chances for the human body to not function at its top capacity.
Most mouth breathers breathe 2-3 times more air than they should. Why is this bad? If you are breathing 2-3 times as much air as you should, you are breathing out 3 times the air that you should and your carbon dioxide levels will be DEFICIENT! You are losing your body’s natural buffering system. As a result the mast cells in your body will release histamines (inflammation), and your internal systems get out of whack!!
Why is it a concern?
Chronic mouth breathing is a huge concern as it can affect the quality of your life AND your life. There are several reasons why we are scientifically supposed to breathe through our nose and not our mouth.
Breathing through the nose is vital in maintaining your overall health. Our sinuses produce a gas called nitric oxide (NO). This gas plays an important role in many of our body functions. It acts as a relaxant causing blood vessels to dilate, it improves the absorption and release of gases in the lungs, and It works as an antibacterial to help neutralize germs and bacteria.
According to Patrick McKeown, a Buteyko breathing educator, and author of Close Your Mouth, mouth breathing and airway problems in children are directly related to
- Recurrent ear infections
- Allergic Rhinitis
- OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea)
- ADHD (related to airway disorders)
Statistics have shown that 25% of children are snoring, and 10% of those are shown to have OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea). In addition, a high percentage of children that have ADD/ADHD, have associated breathing disorders. Here is a touching story of a young boys struggle with being misdiagnosed like so many other children http://aapmd.org/about-aapmd/aapmd-blog/entry/finding-connor-deegan.html
What are the effects of mouth breathing?
- When anyone habitually breathes through their mouth, a series of facial changes take place. When the mouth is open, it drops the chin down and back. It acts like a weight hanging on the face and you have a complete downward pull of facial muscles and jaw joints. Many mouth breathers also present with a low tongue level. This means that the tongue is resting on the floor of the mouth instead of UP in the roof of the mouth. It is CRUCIAL for the tongue to remain UP in the palate at all times as it provides support for the upper jaw. Without the tongue UP in its proper resting place, there is an inward push of forces making the mouth narrow and the palate higher which restricts the airways. Remember that the roof of the mouth is the floor of the nose. In addition, there are noticeable changes to the eyes and contours of the face. The nose becomes under utilized and underdeveloped, the upper lip atrophy’s and shortens, and the lower lip gets over worked, becoming fat and flaccid.
- 60% of facial growth takes place during the first four years of life, and 90% takes place by the age of 12. Development of the lower jaw continues until around age 18.
- ” A mouth breather lowers the tongue position to facilitate the flow of air into the expanding lungs. The resultant effect is maldevelopment of the jaw in particular and deformity of the face in general. Setting of the teeth on the jaw is also effected”. The long face syndrome and impairment of the nasopharyngeal airway. Angle Orthod 1990 Fall 60(3)167-76
- An increase in upper respiratory infections
- The brain resets at a lower level leading to hyperventilation
- Increases the likely hood of developing asthma
- Open Mouth Breathing during sleep is a risk factor for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Chronic mouth breathers have extreme difficulty or are unable to:
- Humidify and filter the air they inhale
- Produce nitric oxide air in which the lungs and body need in order to function properly
- Regulate sleep patterns
- Clear the inner auditory tubes from debris
- Keep nasal passages clear
- Smell effectively
- Cool their pituitary gland to help regulate body temperature
Mouth breathing can contribute to:
- Malocclusion (teeth out of proper position)
- Abnormal facial development (long narrow faces)
- Bad breath
- Tongue thrusting
- Sore/dry throat
- Aggravated sleep apnea and snoring
- Poor oxygen concentration in the bloodstream
- High blood pressure
- Heart problems
What can cause it?
- Short upper lip (lips do not meet at rest)
If you have difficulty closing your lips or keeping them closed, you may have a short upper lip. This is often brought on by a lip tie, thumb sucking, habitual mouth breathing, and or extended use of a pacifier, bottle or sippy cup.
- Force of habit (previous cause of nasal obstruction that is now corrected)
- Allergies (seasonal, animal related or food)
- Nasal congestion
- Nasal Polyps
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
If these are swollen the tongue has no room and therefore must create space by opening the mouth.
How can it be corrected?
Eliminating contributing factors such as adenoids, nasal polyps, and allergies are key. Orthodontics may need to be addressed as well. Once these issues are addressed mouth Breathing can be reversed through a series of targeted exercises involving the tongue, and lips. Stretching and retraining the upper lip is crucial in mastering nasal breathing, as well as retraining the tongue to rest in the roof of the mouth. Think about it…what keeps the tongue on the roof of the mouth? SUCTION or negative air pressure. This can only be accomplished if the lips are closed. As soon as the lips part, you lose suction. For anyone with a short upper lip, this is challenging and Myofunctional Therapy can help reverse this.
In addition to Myofucntional Therapy, breath retraining through the Buteyko breathing method is also highly recommended. I recently had the pleasure of training with Patrick McKeown, author of Close Your Mouth. Mouth breathing may seem an easy task to overcome, but I assure you it is not. Mouth breathers have learned to compensate by using their facial muscles incorrectly over time. They are dealing with muscles and habits that have been conditioned and ingrained in their everyday mechanics for years and it will take time to recondition these habits.