Updated: Jun 3
It’s been estimated that as much as 80% of the population breathes incorrectly. That’s 4 out of every 5 people! The majority of these is due to mouth breathing - an insidious, uncomfortable habit that develops when we have colds, flu's, allergies and sinus inflammation. In most instances, it will resolve as the cold passes however, for some it can be the beginning of a significant problem that lingers indefinitely wreaking havoc on the biological system.
The problem with mouth breathing is that it only becomes apparent when problems have already developed and are burdening the individual with continuous hyperventilation (too much oxygen not enough carbon dioxide).
So let's get one thing straight, the mouth is for eating, talking and communication, the nose is for breathing and smelling, that's it! So what's the big hoo-ha?
Nitric Oxide for one. With nasal breathing, the key gas (Nitric Oxide) is released into the Cardiovascular system. It functions as a vasodilator (making the airway and vessels of the circulatory system open) and results in a reduction in blood pressure as well as increasing the blood flow to your organs. The brain, arguably our most important organ, receives optimal blood flow resulting in better learning and memory. Nitric Oxide also plays a key role in getting oxygen into haemoglobin in the blood, which is critical for the cellular function of the entire body. Not only this but without correct oxygen saturation, we feel sleepy and tired. Nitric Oxide even destroys viruses and parasites in the nasal cavity and the airway. Think of it as the first-line defence in our immune system and response. Needless to say, Nitric Oxide release is critical in the correct function and maintenance of our general health, and this release only occurs with correct nasal breathing.
From a dental perspective, mouth breathing has a detrimental effect on the entire mouth. Mouth breathing results in a drying effect which increases bacterial growth on the gums and teeth resulting in an increased risk of gum disease and dental decay. The drying results in reduced salivary coverage over the gums, teeth, tongue and the tonsils resulting in reduced antibacterial effect of the saliva on these tissues, more irritation and disease! Imagine exposing the inside of your eyelids to the wind, now do that forever! Wait for the eye problems to develop.
Finally, mouth breathing almost guarantees dental crowding and developmental issues. The mouth is meant to remain closed most of the time (unless you’re like me and have a child that can talk underwater). It is only meant to open to talk, eat and drink. When at rest, the tongue is meant to rest against the palate and press gently against the inside of all the top teeth. The lips remain closed and sealed helping to ensure air is pulled in through the nose bringing with it that beautiful Nitric Oxide. The muscles of the face are relaxed and the teeth remain slightly apart. This creates a balance between the tongue against the teeth on the inside and the lips and cheeks on the outside of the teeth. The teeth then align in a neutral zone of pressure between the two.
In mouth breathing this harmony is completely destroyed as the individual has to open the mouth, dropping the tongue down to open the airway to allow the air in. This action draws the cheeks against the teeth creating a narrow long face with dental crowding in process.
So what do I do if I know someone who mouth breaths? Encourage them to get it checked! There can be many causes as to why an individual will mouth breath however without investigation and assessment you are well aware of the outcomes. As dental professionals, we are able to identify these issues and either develop a tailored treatment plan for you or get an appropriate specialist referral in place to make sure you get the assessment you need.
What seems like a harmless habit could be doing more damage than you think. Don’t hesitate, contact our team for a consultation today.
Article Written by Jason Alfrey
Jason is a Consulting Oral Health Therapist at Channon Lawrence Dental. He has practiced in the region for 15 years. Jason provides general dental care to all ages with specific interests in children’s dentistry, Minimal Intervention Dentistry, Periodontal Care (Gum Care) and management of the ageing dentition.