Many of us are unaware that there are proper and improper ways to breathe. Humans are naturally nose breathers. Nasal breathing performs at least 30 functions for our body, including providing a sense of smell and preparing air before it enters the lungs. Breathing through the nose warms, humidifies, and filters the incoming air. It is also crucial for producing Nitric Oxide, a vital gas produced in the body that has antiviral and antimicrobial properties, dilates blood vessels, helps oxygenate blood, and opens airways. Only nasal breathing produces Nitric Oxide, whereas mouth breathing does not.
Mouth breathing is an abnormal breathing pattern where air flows solely through the mouth. Proper breathing at rest should be done through the nose with lips closed and tongue resting on the roof of the mouth. The mouth is for eating, speaking, and swallowing, not breathing. Breathing through the mouth limits the purification, humidification, and heating of air as it enters the body. It also makes it easier for inflammation to start in the nose, sinuses, middle ear, larynx, trachea, and bronchi.
There are two types of mouth breathing:
- Forced – due to nasal cavity obstruction caused by factors such as enlarged adenoids/tonsils, allergies, deviated septum, or Choanal Atresia (a rare condition diagnosed at birth). An otolaryngologist (ENT) or allergist should be consulted for proper diagnosis.
- Habitual – when nasal passages are unobstructed but a person continues to breathe through the mouth out of habit.
When breathing through the mouth with lips apart, jaw open, and tongue resting low on the floor of the mouth, it may lead to issues such as narrowed jaws, Long Face Syndrome, crowded teeth, and more. Consultation with an orthodontist or dentist may be recommended.
A narrow jaw also means a narrow airway, making nasal breathing more difficult.
Signs of chronic oral breathing include:
- Dry/chapped lips
- Dry mouth (which may cause bad breath and dental cavities)
- Gingivitis (gum disease)
- Hoarse voice
- Noisy and messy eating and chewing
- Poor sleep, leading to poor attention and behavioral problems
In conclusion, you should attempt to breathe through your nose as much as possible. Mouth breathing can lead to numerous negative effects such as dry mouth, gingivitis, hoarse voice, and poor sleep. To ensure proper breathing, it is important to keep the nasal passages clear and unobstructed, and to develop habits of nasal breathing. In cases where mouth breathing is forced due to nasal obstruction, it is recommended to consult an otolaryngologist or allergist for proper diagnosis and treatment.
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