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You probably don’t think about how you breathe or whether you’re doing it correctly. You typically breathe without conscious awareness.
But what if you knew that about one-third of people aren’t breathing well enough to stay healthy?10 You might want to pay more attention to how you breathe, which involves knowing the difference between mouth and nose breathing.
Nasal breathing is better for your overall health than mouth breathing, particularly when inhaling dry or cold air.3 Mouth breathing causes air to bypass the nose’s protective functions. Your nose was designed for breathing and smelling, while your mouth was designed for speaking, eating, and drinking.
Mouth breathing can lead to problems like dry mouth, bad breath, and poor sleep. Yet, an estimated 30 to 50% of adults are mouth breathers, especially during the morning.10
Sometimes, mouth breathing is necessary. You might find yourself mouth breathing when you can’t get enough air through your nose. Common causes of mouth breathing include:
Breathing through the nose is healthier and helps:
Breathing through your nose warms, cleanses, and moistens the air in a way your mouth can’t. These actions prepare the air you breathe in for delivery to your lungs.
The mucus membranes in your nose filter out particles and allergens, protecting your respiratory system and reducing your risk for asthma.5
Compared to mouth breathing, nasal breathing results in 10 to 20% more oxygen uptake.10 The structures inside your nose regulate and direct inhaled air flow, maximizing its exposure to nerves and blood vessels.
Your nose and sinus cavities contain enzymes that produce nitric oxide (NO). NO is a:
NO also helps your immune system. When air passes through your nasal passages, it mixes with NO.
Breathing through your nose activates your parasympathetic nervous system. This leads to the following:
Nose breathing allows you to keep your tongue and mouth in the proper position. This involves resting your tongue against the front of your upper palate while your lips are together.
Correct tongue and lip placement support the formation of healthy dental arches and straight teeth.
Nasal breathing helps prevent many health issues, including:
Many studies have shown that chronic mouth breathing can harm your overall health.10 Mouth breathing can contribute to the following health problems:
Studies show that mouth breathers are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).6
Sleep apnea occurs when breathing stops and starts again during sleep. It causes loud snoring and daytime sleepiness.
Mouth breathing can lead to the narrowing of the jaw, dental arch, and palate. This may lead to misaligned teeth (malocclusion). People who mouth breathe are more likely to have the following types of malocclusion:
Mouth breathing may also increase the risk of relapse after orthodontic treatment.
Mouth breathing is common in children. If a child doesn’t stop mouth breathing with age, they can develop a ‘mouth breather face.’
Signs and symptoms of mouth breather face include:
Breathing with the mouth open may also contribute to the following:
Switching from mouth breathing to nasal breathing can take time, but the health improvements are worth the effort. Here are some tips to help you stop mouth breathing:
Breathing exercises can help you learn to breathe properly through your nose. Yoga practices (pranayama) commonly use these techniques.
In addition to proper breathing, benefits of mindful breathing exercises include the following:
Also known as abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing involves taking deep breaths through your nose. Here’s how to do this breathing exercise:
The Breath of Fire technique involves normal inhalations and short, strong exhalations. Here’s how to try it:
Alternate nostril breathing involves taking slow inhalations through one nostril and exhaling through the other. You use your fingers to seal the opposite nostril. Here’s how to do it:
Changing the way you position your body can improve breathing patterns. To start, sit and stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
When you’re not eating or speaking, hold your mouth in the proper resting position with your:
Mouth-taping can help you breathe through your nose during sleep. One study found that mouth-taping reduced snoring and sleep apnea symptoms in mouth breathers by 50%.8
Before mouth-taping, ensure you can breathe safely through your nose. If you have nasal congestion, clear that up first.
Clear nasal cavities are essential for proper nose breathing. Nasal congestion can result from various health issues, such as a sinus infection or allergies.
You may be able to treat a stuffy nose with home remedies, such as:
If the congestion doesn’t go away, seek treatment from your healthcare provider.
If you can’t stop mouth breathing, your dentist or doctor can help. Mouth breathing may be due to a condition that requires surgical or orthodontic treatment. These conditions include:
Your healthcare provider can diagnose mouth breathing and treat its underlying cause.
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