‘Tis the season for sniffles, congestion and mouth breathing. So there’s no better time than now to talk about why mouth breathing is more serious than you might think. It’s more than morning breath and snoring; there are some serious effects that come from breathing through your mouth rather than your nose, especially if you do so all year round. Keep reading to learn how to recognize mouth breathing, what the risks are and how to treat it.
Recognize the symptoms of mouth breathing
Lots of times, mouth breathing occurs at night, so you may not even know you’re doing it! But if you notice some of these symptoms during the day (and if your partner or roommate has complained that you snore), mouth breathing may be a culprit:
- Gum disease.
- Brain fog.
- Waking up with a headache.
- Waking up feeling tired or irritable.
- Keeping your mouth open when you are distracted.
- Abnormal facial structure in children, “including flatter facial features and receding chin,” according to allergydr.net/mouth-breathing/.
If you’ve noticed one or more of these symptoms, talk to your doctor or dentist to see if mouth breathing may be part of the cause.
The risks and implications of mouth breathing
Mouth breathing doesn’t just affect your mouth — or even just your breathing. Because all of our body’s systems are interconnected, mouth breathing may make you more likely to experience some serious health conditions. These conditions can include “digestive issues, chronic fatigue, morning headaches and sore throat,” according to Banner Health.
Dry mouth can be a key cause of inflammation which can eventually lead to oral disease and is also associated with heart disease. Sleep apnea, another condition related to nighttime mouth breathing, can put stress on your heart.
On the flip side, the benefits of nose breathing are significant. The nose filters out small particles in the air, adds moisture to the air you inhale and warms up cold air to body temperature. Additionally, “nose breathing adds resistance to the air stream. This increases oxygen uptake by maintaining the lungs’ elasticity,” according to healthline.com.
How to treat mouth breathing
Since the causes of mouth breathing differ from case to case, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment. If mouth breathing is caused by nasal congestion, then nasal decongestants or antihistamines may be the way to go. If it’s crowded teeth, then braces or other orthodontic treatment may be called for. But some causes require more significant treatment.
If obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is what’s causing mouth breathing, you may need to wear a CPAP mask while you sleep. With OSA, the muscles in the back of your throat relax, causing your airway to narrow or close as you breathe in. Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) keeps your airways from collapsing and becoming blocked.
In some cases, orthodontic treatment may be needed. Orthodontics can gently expand the jaw, which in turn widens the mouth and can open up the airway, making it easier to breathe through the nose.
Cold and flu season is here, so watch out for mouth breathing. It can lead to fatigue, gum disease and even abnormal facial structure. If you are concerned that you might be breathing through your mouth more than is healthy, reach out to your doctor or dentist for an evaluation.
Sarah Hilton, RN, has 20 years of healthcare experience and serves as Stage Marketing’s director of advisory services.