What Is Mouth Breathing? 

Mouth breathing is inhaling and exhaling through your mouth instead of through your nose. 

Mouth breathing can occur as a consequence of allergies, illness or sinus congestion. Typically, these occurrences are short-lived, and most of us go back to breathing correctly — through the nose. 

But what happens when mouth breathing is habitual or chronic and never goes away on its own? 

The answer is a lot of potential complications. 

Mouth breathing dries out the mouth, contributing to cavities, gum disease, dry mouth and other oral health issue. But mouth breathing can also contribute to other, more serious conditions. 

Researchers have found that individuals who chronically breathe through their mouths are more likely to experience sleep breathing disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, lifelong respiratory problems, daytime fatigue, migraines and headaches, mood disorders, and overall lessened quality of life than individuals who breathe through their nose. 

Children who breathe through their mouths also experience the harmful effects of mouth breathing, including failure to thrive, difficulty in school, frequently being labeled with behavior disorders such as ADD/ADHD, and physiological effects that negatively impact the orofacial structures and airway.

Some of these physiological effects can cause consequences for facial development, including bite problems and disrupted jaw development. These issues often result in high, narrow palates; long lower jaws; and decreased tone in the upper airway’s soft tissues, three factors that further contribute to sleep breathing disorders. 

These severe complications make treating mouth breathing critical. 

Unfortunately, there is a significant lack of awareness of the impacts of mouth breathing and its effects on facial growth and overall physiologic health. 

But at the Bend Headache Center, we recognize the seriousness of chronic mouth breathing and can help. 

The Causes of Mouth Breathing

As we mentioned, one of the most prominent causes of mouth breathing is nasal congestion, which can be caused by allergies or illness. Other causes of mouth breathing include:

  • Enlarged adenoids/tonsils
  • Deviated nasal septum
  • Nasal/upper airway obstruction 
  • Underdeveloped or misshapen jaws

In general, these things contribute to feeling as if you’re being deprived of air, which caused the subconscious switch to mouth breathing.    

The Effects of Mouth Breathing

As we mentioned, several critical issues can develop as a result of mouth breathing. These issues include: 

Growth and Developmental Problems. Breathing through the nose stimulates the nasal mucosa, which, in turn, stimulates the nerves that control breathing to reach a deep level of sleep. Deep sleep is critical for children, as this is the stage when human growth hormone is released. When this is impeded by mouth breathing, children are often undersized and develop a flatter, longer face, less prominent cheekbones, droopy eyes, and low muscle tone. Learn more about the benefits of nasal breathing here. 

Health Problems. HGH is not the only hormone that is regulated during deep sleep. All of the body’s hormones are set during this time, including insulin. When you do not reach the necessary level of sleep, your body does not know how to handle high blood sugar levels, contributing to a greater risk of developing diabetes. Other serious consequences include obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. 

Oxygen Deprivation. If you chronically breathe through your mouth, you likely are not getting enough oxygen. At the same time, you likely also have high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. Both factors can contribute to illness, fatigue, brain fog, difficulty focusing and an increase in the risk of developing chronic disease. 

Speech. When children chronically breathe through their mouths, they may struggle with making certain speech sounds, like the “S” sound, correctly. Some children also develop a lisp. Speech is affected by mouth breathing because mouth breathing affects the swallowing pattern, causing the tongue to push forward when speaking and swallowing. This forward thrust can also cause teeth to move forward. 

Orthodontic Relapse. Mouth breathing and associated tongue thrusting can cause the teeth’s alignment to become unstable, even after orthodontic treatment. This can also contribute to jaw problems, tooth loss and unnecessary tooth extractions, as well as multiple rounds of orthodontic treatment. 

Symptoms of Mouth Breathing

Many people who breathe through their mouth are not aware they’re doing it. But there are several common signs of chronic mouth breathing to be on the lookout for. These include: 

  • Crowded or crooked teeth 
  • Dry mouth and cracked lips
  • Digestive issues, including GERD
  • Bad breath
  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease (inflamed, red, bleeding and swollen gums)
  • Frequent interruptions in sleep 
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Heavy snoring
  • Morning headaches or migraines 
  • Sore throat
  • Chronic throat problems, including strep throat and tonsilitis

Do you suspect that you or your child is experiencing the effects of mouth breathing? Find out how the Bend Headache Center can help. Call us today to learn more.