Are you a mouth breather? And why does it matter?

To be honest, many mouth breathers aren’t even aware of their own habits. It is a very common pattern that we see in the office every day! Humans are designed to breathe through their noses, but when they are experiencing any sort of obstructed upper airway, they will use the mouth as a backup breathing tool. This is a good thing that we have an alternative way to breath if we need it, but the problem is that many people are only using their mouth to breath.  

So why is mouth breathing not always great?

To state it simply – mouth breathing can cause central fatigue (think full-body fatigue) which can negatively affect brain function and can lead to a variety of issues which may include impaired facial growth, dry mouth, chewing abnormalities, misaligned teeth and overbite, snoring, bad breath, sleep disorders and reduced energy.

When we breathe through the mouth, according to published research, it increases the oxygen load on the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is the part of the brain that is focused on personality expression, decision making and social behaviour along with coordinating functions of other parts of the brain (1).

Advantages of Breathing Through your Nose

Air that comes into your body through your nose gets filtered by the tiny hairs in your nasal passage preventing tiny particles from entering your body. The other thing that these tiny hairs do is help to regulate the temperature of the air we breathe (3). When we breathe deeply in and out of the nose (think 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out), it also helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nerve receptors that are associated with rest, relaxation and healing. 

My experience

For some back story, I have experienced almost all of these factors. As a child, I had strep throat frequently, enlarged tonsils/adenoids and asthma. I snored in my sleep (like a bear I was told) and eventually had my tonsils and adenoids removed when I was in elementary school. I stopped getting strep throat post-procedure but ended up having more lower respiratory infections instead….The procedure kind of helped my snoring but if I got on my back, then it didn’t work as well. Please understand that the underlying problem wasn’t fixed but a “Band-Aid” was placed on symptoms that I was experiencing at the time. 

Life has an interesting way of creating scenarios to help you learn. So what happened? I had two children born with tongue ties. This lead me down a path of learning how to help my children which in turn helped me. After some research, I learned of a relatively new field called Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy (it’s a mouthful!) and Airway Dentistry. Interestingly, I started having some TMJ pain randomly where I couldn’t open one side of my jaw and thought it wise to get some help myself. 

I had been adjusted by my Chiropractor and had a massage to work on my mouth, but the problem would come back again. Enter Kim Kung, an Orofacial Myofunctional Therapist, who taught me how to breathe properly, not to tongue thrust (push my tongue towards to front of my teeth), make sure my tongue was staying at the roof of my mouth and diagnosed my tongue-tie (which I obviously had from birth). From this point, Dr Mandeep Johal, an airway dentist, did my tongue tie release in July of 2020. The amazing thing is I don’t mouth breath anymore, I sleep much better and wake up more rested (most of the time… I still have two young children) and my jaw has changed.  

If you are thinking you may be breathing through your mouth, and many people are today especially with the advent of wearing masks, what can you do to change it? 

The first thing you need to do is figure out if you have an airway or breathing issue that is stopping you from breathing through the nose. Some of those factors can include nasal congestion (for example chronic sinus infections), breathing disorders, deviated nasal septum, enlarged tonsils and adenoids or a tongue tie. 

How can you stop mouth breathing?

  1. The best place to start is to clear your nasal airway. Neti pots can be very helpful but you need to get your nasal passages clear or you will not be able to use them properly. If you have a deviated septum, getting a consult will be necessary. Speaking to your doctor will be very important if you have an issue with your nasal passage.  
  2. Now if your nasal airway is clear, you need to start practicing breathing through your nose – inhale and exhale. You can cover one nostril by blocking it with a finger or just practicing with both uncovered. This is all going to be about reps – the more you do it, the easier it gets. We have had patients who when the first try feel like it’s the most challenging thing, but they get better at it. 
  3. Try changing your sleeping position – if you are sleeping on your back, it’s going to be more likely that you will mouth breath because it causes upper airway resistance and forces you to take heavier breaths. You are less likely to mouth breath if you lay on your stomach or your side. 
  4. Get an assessment from an Orofacial Myofunctional Therapist (OMT) who will help you to relearn swallowing and breathing patterns. This will involve exercises for the mouth and facial muscles in order to correct any issue you have. 
  5. Mouth taping is an option but I wouldn’t start here and I would first want to work with an OMT to be properly assessed. 

If you have any questions, reach out. We are here to help direct you where to get more information!

Dr Sarah

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4047298/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466403/
  3. https://europepmc.org/article/med/18565805