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Mouth or Nasal Breathing – Why does it matter?

Updated: May 7

Mouth Breathing or Nasal Breathing-Why does it matter?

As we all know, breathing provides our bodies with oxygen which is critical for survival. Most people don’t give much thought to how that oxygen enters their body. Are you breathing through your nose or your mouth or a combination of both?

Well, studies suggest that close to 80% of the population breathe wrong and that can have a detrimental effect to your overall health.

What is the proper way to breathe you ask? While at times it may be okay to breathe through your mouth, our bodies function at a much higher level when we are breathing through the nose. Breathing with our nose is how the body was designed. And when we use the body the way it is designed it functions better.

Nasal breathing filters the air as it passes into the body and creates the optimal oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange resulting in a balanced PH. Another benefit to nasal breathing is the production of nitric oxide.

Our sinuses produce nitric oxide which is known to fight harmful bacteria and viruses (like COVID-19), it regulates blood pressure and improves the body’s immune system.

How does mouth breathing affect the body?

In children mouth breathing can cause poor growth and development, facial deformities, crooked teeth, cavities and lead to obstructive sleep apnea as adults. In adults, chronic mouth breathing can cause cavities, gum disease, bad breath, low energy levels, along with many other systemic diseases.

Mouth breathing is often worse. Signs and symptoms of nighttime mouth breathing are snoring, dry mouth and even sleep apnea.

What causes mouth breathing?

The most common causes of mouth breathing are:

  • Allergies

  • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids

  • Deviated septum and/or nasal airway obstruction

  • Chronic nasal infections

  • Respiratory infections

  • Asthma

What can be done to treat mouth breathing?

Mouth breathing may sound like an easy problem to fix but it is not as simple as just closing your mouth. In fact, it can be quite complicated and time consuming. The first step is to understand why you are mouth breathing in the first place, essentially you want to get to the root of the problem.

There are many medical professionals that may play a role in helping to treat this problem such as your dentist, a myofunctional therapist, ENT among others. Talk to your dental professional at your next appointment if you think you may be a mouth breather.

How does nose breathing differ from mouth breathing?

Your nose and mouth provide two ways to breathe. Both lead to your throat, which carries oxygen into your lungs. Even so, there are important differences between nose breathing and mouth breathing.

Nose breathing

Your nose is designed to help you breathe safely, efficiently, and properly. It can do this due to its ability to:

  • Filter out foreign particles. Nasal hair filters out dust, allergens, and pollen, which helps prevent them from entering your lungs.

  • Humidify inhaled air. Your nose warms and moisturizes the air you breathe in. This brings the air you inhale to body temperature, making it easier for your lungs to use.

  • Produce nitric oxide. During nasal breathing, your nose releases nitric oxide (NO). NO is a vasodilator, which means it helps to widen blood vessels. This can help improve oxygen circulation in your body.

Mouth breathing

Your mouth helps you eat, drink, and talk. You can also use your mouth to breathe, but it doesn’t have many of the unique features that your nose has for this purpose.

In some cases, mouth breathing is necessary. You might need to breathe through your mouth if you have:

  • nasal congestion

  • a deviated septum

  • small nostrils

Yet, breathing primarily through your mouth is associated with some health risks. With mouth breathing, your mouth loses moisture, which can cause dry mouth. It could also increase your risk of:

  • inhaling unfiltered air

  • allergic reactions to allergens

  • asthma

  • bad breath

  • tooth decay

  • gum inflammation (gingivitis)

  • snoring

  • sleep apnea

  • teeth or jaw abnormalities

What are the benefits of breathing through your nose?

Since your nose was specifically designed to help you breathe, nasal breathing has many advantages. Nose breathing is beneficial primarily because it allows your nasal cavities to:

  • reduce exposure to foreign substances

  • humidify and warm inhaled air

  • increase air flow to arteries, veins, and nerves

  • increase oxygen uptake and circulation

  • slow down breathing

  • improve lung capacity

  • strengthen the diaphragm

  • lower your risk of allergies and hay fever

  • reduce your risk of coughing

  • aid your immune system

  • lower your risk of snoring and sleep apnea

  • support the correct formation of teeth and mouth

Nose breathing exercises to try

Breathing exercises may help improve your nose breathing. These techniques may also help enhance your lung function, increase respiratory muscle strength, and relieve stress and anxiety. Let’s look at three types of breathing exercises you can try.

1. Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing, or nadishodhana, is a common breathing exercise used in yoga. In this technique, you inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other, while using your finger to close the opposite nostril.

The exercise requires focus, so it’s great for increasing mindfulness. It may also help enhance your lung function and decrease stress.

To try alternate nostril breathing, follow these steps:

  1. Sit up tall and relax your shoulders.

  2. Lay your left hand on your left knee.

  3. Place your right thumb on your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril.

  4. Place your right ring finger on your left nostril. Exhale through your right nostril.

  5. Inhale through your right nostril.

  6. Return your right thumb to your right nostril. Exhale through your left nostril. This completes one set.

  7. Repeat for 5 minutes.

2. Belly breathing

Belly breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing. It involves taking slow, deep breaths in through your nose.

The goal is to breathe deep enough to fill your belly with air. This increases how much oxygen you take in, and may help slow down your breathing and heart rate.

Belly breathing also increases mindfulness and reduces stress. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit up tall and relax your shoulders. You can also lay down on your bed.

  2. Close your mouth. Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest.

  3. Inhale slowly through your nose, letting your belly rise and fill with air. Your chest should stay still.

  4. Purse your lips and exhale slowly.

  5. Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Breath of Fire

Breath of Fire, or skull shining breath, is an exercise used in Kundalini yoga. It involves quick, strong exhalations and normal inhalations.

The technique may help improve respiratory function by engaging your respiratory muscles and diaphragm. It might also help boost your concentration and focus.

Here’s how to do Breath of Fire:

  1. Sit up tall and relax your shoulders.

  2. Place your hands on your belly. You can also put your hands on your knees, palms facing upward.

  3. Inhale deeply through your nose, imaging air moving down into your belly. Let your lower belly expand.

  4. Without stopping, exhale forcefully through your nose while letting your belly move in. Continue inhaling passively and exhaling forcefully.

  5. Repeat to practice the rhythm. Keep your inhales and exhales the same length.

  6. Speed up your inhales and exhales. Repeat for 30 seconds.

You may feel lightheaded while practicing this technique. If you’re new to the exercise, start slowly. You can try speeding it up over time.

The bottom line

Nose breathing is more beneficial than mouth breathing. Breathing through your nose can help filter out dust and allergens, boost your oxygen uptake, and humidify the air you breathe in.

Mouth breathing, on the other hand, can dry out your mouth. This may increase your risk of bad breath and gum inflammation. Mouth breathing may also make you more prone to allergies, asthma, and coughing.

To improve your nose breathing, try exercises like alternate nostril breathing, belly breathing, and Breath of Fire. These techniques may help you master nose breathing while enhancing your lung function and reducing stress.

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