“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.” ~Sanskrit proverb
Breathing is the most important function we do to stay alive and all of our other body functions depend on it. The quality of breaths we take does make a difference in our quality of life. This is directly related to whether we are breathing from our mouth or our nose. Breathing through the nose is what nature intended us to do. However, sometimes we develop a mouth breathing habit, due to allergies, enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, trauma to the nose, nasal polyps, sinus issues etc.
Below are some of the major benefits of nose breathing that highlight just how important it is to breathe through your nose.
- Increased absorption of oxygen allows you to have better quality sleep This is important for growth and development in children since growth hormone is released in children while they sleep.
- The jaws of growing children develop in a correct downward and forward direction, which also helps to develop a healthy airway
- Teeth come in straighter and it allows good facial development
- Head posture is normal in a straight direction (compared to forward head posture, with mouth breathing causing spinal changes)
- Decreased risk of sleep apnea or sleep disturbed breathing because of better airway development and decreased risk of airway collapse
- Decreased inflammation (in the mouth, lymphatic tissue)
- Higher brain function and concentration (due to better quality sleep)
- Increased oxygen uptake by 20%
- Higher amount of nitric oxide isreleased. Nitric oxide is released from the back of your nose and sinuses. It helps sterilize the air and open blood vessels. This helps to improve blood circulation and decrease blood pressure. It also helps reverse build-up of plaque and lowers cholesterol.
- Decreased stress and anxiety when you slow down your breathing through the nose
Alternatively, breathing from the mouth can have health altering consequences. Some of these effects include:
- Tonsils and adenoids become enlarged due to mouth breathing which causes decreased airway size. This leads to a decreased amount of oxygen being absorbed and results in Sleep Disturbed Breathing (SDB)
- SDB: leads to poor quality of sleep and is related to poor academic performance, not growing to the full genetic potential and linked to children developing ADHD
- The tongue doesn’t sit in the roof of the mouth and hangs low. The low tongue posture causes underdevelopment of the upper and lower jaws and crowding of teeth in children
- Undeveloped jaws may require extensive treatment, such as surgery, to fix the problem. Crooked teeth require braces to fix alignment but can relapse after orthodontic treatment if mouth breathing habit is not corrected
- Airway develops narrower because of the downward and backward growth of the lower jaw.
- A decrease in the amount of nitric oxide released when you mouth breathe.
- Viruses and bacteria are not filtered from the air you are breathing in which increases the risk of getting recurrent ear and throat infections
- May cause digestive disturbances like upset stomach, acid reflux (can cause erosion of teeth)
- Causes forward head posture because you are trying to open airway to breathe better. Long term this leads to irreversible spinal changes
- Bad breath
- Dry mouth leads to higher risk of cavities, gingivitis & gum disease
Correcting a mouth breathing habit is easily achievable. The Following are some treatment options available:
- Close your mouth and practice nose breathing. Your tongue should rest in the roof of the mouth with teeth slightly apart. Just like changing any other habit it will take practice. If you have trouble breathing from your nose, speak to your doctor. You might need to see an ENT to see if there’s a physical obstruction or other physical issues
- If the airway is severely obstructed (assessed by a sleep study and ENT consult) you may require surgery to remove adenoids and/or tonsils BEFORE nasal breathing can be established.
- Myofunctional therapy: exercises that help retrain the tongue and lip muscles ALONG with myofunctional orthodontic appliance to switch from a mouth to nose breathing.