When it comes to breathing, we all do it every single day, all the time. It is an unconscious part of life that we really only notice when there is something getting in the way of doing it efficiently. Studies show that 80% of people are actually breathing WRONG. People are supposed to breathe through their noses unless they require more oxygen during exercise or there is an obstruction like a stuffy nose. It’s a good idea to differentiate between nose breathing and mouth breathing. Here we discuss mouth breathing vs. nasal breathing, and which is best for your overall health.
We all encounter short-term mouth breathing from time to time, especially when we’re suffering nasal congestion or a cold. We also tend to breathe through our mouths after exercising. However, when we begin to breathe through our mouth for an extended period of time, especially while at rest, we’re long-term mouth breathing.
There are various reasons for mouth breathing, including:
- Deviated nasal septums
- Prolonged pacifier or bottle use
- Enlarged tonsils
- Sinus polyps
- Birth abnormalities
Many times, however, mouth breathing has to do with improper oral rest posture, meaning the tongue doesn’t sit in the right place within the mouth. It should rest gently in the roof of the mouth at all times. With mouth breathing, the lips are usually parted and the tongue is either too low or too far back in the mouth. Regardless, it causes us to breathe through the mouth, which leads to detrimental effects on our health and development.
The nose, on the other hand, acts to warm and humidify air, filter air, and release nitric oxide into the body. Without nasal breathing, your tonsils and gum tissues have to act as a filter for cold, non-humidified, polluted air, and there is no release of nitric oxide. This leads to inflammation of not only the tonsils (have you had to get your tonsils out?), but the gum tissues too! You can also experience the following symptoms:
- Dry mouth
- Worsening symptoms of asthma and allergies
- Bad breath
- Increased risk for ear infections, throat infections, and dental issues
In addition, mouth breathing leads to development issues and related complications, including:
- Improper jaw development
- Forward head posture
- Narrow dental arches
- Out-of-position jaw or TMJ issues
- Sleep apnea or sleep-disordered breathing
- Teeth clenching and grinding
Breathing properly, through the nose, reduces these symptoms due to mouth breathing.
Our bodies are designed for nasal breathing. We’re designed to breathe with our lips sealed, and tongue up within the roof of the mouth. Nasal breathing allows our airway to stay open and our jaw and face to develop as it should.
In addition, when you breathe through the nose, you are filtering the air you breathe. Your nose hairs capture particles and keep them from entering your lungs. Breathing through your nose allows you to:
- Filter bacteria and allergens so you breathe in cleaner oxygen
- Produce more production of nitric oxide to open your airways so more oxygen gets into your bloodstream
- Improve athletic performance by improving your CO2 tolerance
- Improve sleep
- Reduce risk for sore throats
- Avoid dry mouth
- Improve symptoms for those with sleep apnea
As mentioned, your nose acts as a filter for the oxygen that goes to your lungs. The nose hairs or “cilia” can prevent as much as 20 billion particles of foreign matter from entering our bodies daily. Also, when you breathe through your nose the air you breathe is humidified so the temperature of the air adjusts to your body temperature. This keeps your lungs more productive. The filtered, humidified air releases nitric oxide, which improves oxygen circulation by expanding your blood vessels.
Nitric oxide is a vasodilator. This means it opens the blood vessels and allows blood to flow throughout the body without restriction. This is important for all things related to the heart and blood, including decreasing muscle soreness, preventing buildup in the artery walls, keeping blood pressure low, even preventing erectile dysfunction. Nitric oxide is also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, preventing infections and reducing inflammation, even helping treat cancer and prevent IBS. It acts as a neurotransmitter, essential for brain function. With low levels of it, we see increases in depression, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. Whichever way you look at it, nitric oxide is good for your brain, your blood, and keeping your system healthy.
How to Start Practicing Nasal Breathing
If you breathe through your mouth, there are many solutions to help you breathe properly through the nose. The first, most important thing to do is to discover why you’re mouth breathing. Once you discover the why, you’ll be able to determine the best course of action.
Depending on the reason why, you may be able to undergo myofunctional therapy to train your tongue to sit in the proper position. Or, if you’re habitually mouth breathing without another underlying reason, you can practice the following nasal breathing exercises to train yourself to breathe through your nose:
- Alternate Nostril Breathing: Sit with your back straight and your left hand on your left knee. Relax your shoulders and press your right thumb onto your right nostril, inhaling through your left nostril. Hold your breath, and then place your right finger on your left nostril exhaling through the right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril, and then continue the exercise alternating your nostrils as you inhale and exhale.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing: Sit in an upright position keeping your shoulders relaxed. Close your lips so you aren’t tempted to breathe through your mouth. Place your hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Inhale through your nose slowly, focusing on the air expanding your stomach like a balloon. Your chest should remain in place. Exhale and repeat several times to get used to the feeling of inhaling and exhaling through your nose.
If you suffer from the symptoms of mouth breathing, it is important to learn to breathe through your nose. The first step is to determine why you are mouth breathing. Sometimes, it may be due to breathing habits. Sometimes, it may be due to a tongue-tie. Regardless of the reason, we’re here to help you discover why and to get on the road to breathing properly.
Schedule your next appointment with Dr. Elizabeth Turner here and she’ll get to know you and evaluate your unique needs.
Interested in learning more about nasal breathing for your child? Download our Parent’s Guide to a Healthy Child: How Nasal Breathing is Essential to Health
Want to learn more about how nasal breathing affects your health? Download our Airway Basics: How Nasal Breathing Is Essential to Health