Nasal vs. mouth breathing – Why it matters for your health
Breathing is something most people take for granted, yet the way you breathe can impact your health. While breathing through the nose is the body’s natural and preferred method, many people habitually breathe through their mouths, often without realizing the potential consequences.
Here, you’ll learn about the dangers of mouth breathing and why it’s important to address this issue to improve your health.
The importance of nasal breathing
The nose is designed for breathing. It acts as a filter, warming and humidifying the air you breathe while also removing harmful particles and bacteria. Nasal breathing also promotes the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that contributes to widening blood vessels and delivering oxygen to cells.
Additionally, nasal breathing helps maintain the proper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body, which is essential for good health.
The dangers of mouth breathing
Dry mouth and bad breath
Mouth breathing can lead to a dry mouth, which increases the risk of dental problems, such as cavities, gum disease, and bad breath. Saliva plays a crucial role in oral health by helping to wash away food particles and bacteria. When your mouth is dry, these harmful substances can linger and cause damage.
Impaired sleep quality
Mouth breathing during sleep can contribute to snoring and sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. Sleep apnea has been linked to various health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Chronic mouth breathing, especially during childhood when facial bones are still developing, can lead to facial deformities, such as long face syndrome, narrow dental arches, and dental crowding. This is known as “adenoid face,” where the open mouth posture can affect the growth of the upper and lower jaws, leading to changes in facial appearance and dental alignment.
Reduced oxygen intake
Breathing through the mouth bypasses the nasal passages, which are designed to warm, filter, and humidify the air you breathe. As a result, mouth breathers may not effectively use oxygen, leading to reduced oxygen intake and potential negative effects on their health and cognitive function.
How to address mouth breathing
If you or someone you know is a chronic mouth breather, this habit needs to be addressed for better health outcomes. Here are some tips to help transition from mouth breathing to nasal breathing:
The first step is to become aware of your breathing habits. Pay attention to how you breathe throughout the day, especially during strenuous activities, like exercising.
Reduce nasal decongestion
If nasal congestion is a barrier to nasal breathing, consider using nasal decongestants or saline nasal sprays to clear your nasal passages.
Perform breathing exercises
Practice breathing exercises that focus on nasal breathing, such as alternate diaphragmatic (belly) breathing or nostril breathing. These exercises can help strengthen the nasal passages and promote healthy breathing patterns.
Here’s how to perform diaphragmatic breathing:
- Find a comfortable and quiet spot to sit or lie down.
- Place one hand on your chest and your other hand on your stomach, just below your ribcage.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, allowing your stomach to rise as you fill your lungs with air. Your chest should remain relatively still.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth or nose, allowing your stomach to fall as you release the air from your lungs.
Repeat this slow, deep breathing process for several minutes, focusing on the rise and fall of your stomach with each breath.
And here’s how you can practice nostril breathing:
- Sit in a comfortable position, keeping your spine straight and shoulders relaxed.
- Using your right thumb, close your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
- Then, close your left nostril with your right ring finger and release your right nostril. Exhale slowly and completely through your right nostril.
- Inhale through your right nostril. Then, close it with your right thumb and release your left nostril. Exhale slowly and completely through your left nostril.
- This completes one round. Continue this practice for several rounds, alternating the inhalation and exhalation between your nostrils.
Seek professional help
If mouth breathing persists despite efforts to address it, consider seeking help from a healthcare professional. They can evaluate your breathing patterns and provide guidance on potential underlying issues that may contribute to your mouth breathing.
Mouth breathing may seem like a harmless habit. However, its effects can be far-reaching, impacting oral health, sleep quality, and facial development. By understanding the dangers of mouth breathing and taking steps to promote nasal breathing, you can help protect your health and improve your quality of life.
Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website: MeghnaDassani.com.
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