Breathing happens, mostly subconsciously, twenty-four hours per day, every single day; from the moment you are born until the day you die.
Did you know how you breathe has an impact on the shape of your face, your quality of sleep and your overall health?
Nose breathing is a very different process from mouth breathing. When you breathe through your nose, your mouth is closed and the air you inhale passes through your nasal cavities, passes the sinuses, down your throat and into your lungs. If you breathe through your mouth, your nose and all the structures within it are bypassed.
For something you do all day, every day, it is important to pay attention to how you breathe. The health benefits you receive from breathing properly are significant and can be life-changing.
Are You A Mouth Breather?
Being called a mouth breather is considered a derogatory term. In the context of health, mouth breathing literally means breathing through your open mouth. It is common in both adults and children and associated with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, behavioural problems and changes to facial structures. When you know what to look for, a child who habitually breathes through their mouth can be easily spotted1.
Key physical characteristics of mouth breathing include:
- Long narrow face
- Narrow mouth
- High palate
- Misaligned teeth
- Gummy smile
Apart from the physical changes seen with mouth breathing, common signs to look out for in you and your children are:
- Dry mouth
- Bad breath
- Drool on your pillow
- Feeling tired during the day
Mouth breathing may just be a habit you have developed over time, but for most people who breathe through their mouth it is due to an obstruction making it difficult to breathe through the nose. Enlarged adenoids and tonsils, nasal congestion and a deviated septum are some of the factors contributing to mouth breathing2.
Why Should You Breathe Through Your Nose?
Nose breathing is defined by a closed mouth and inhaling and exhaling via the nose. When you breathe in through your nose the air passes through your nostrils, into the nasal cavity, passes the sinuses and then goes down through your pharynx at the back of your throat and then into your trachea and your lungs.
Your nose is an intricately designed structure whose primary purpose is a passage through which the air we inhale and exhale passes. It is not just an ornament on your face contributing to your appearance, although nose breathing has an important role to play in the formation of your facial features and your airway.
When air moves through your nasal cavities it puts pressure on the structures of the face, ensuring proper development of the face.
The air through your nostrils enters the nasal cavities which are lined with small hairs called cilia. Their job is first to trap any foreign particles present in the air. They are also responsible for adding moisture to the air and either warming it or cooling it. This ensures the air reaching your lungs has optimum humidity and temperature for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
The Nose is a Critical First line of Defense for the Immune System
The cilia not only traps foreign particles, the mucus in your nose traps dust particles, bacteria, viruses and allergens, which are excreted either through your nostrils when you sneeze or down the back of your throat.
Your sinuses are another important feature of the upper airway. When inhaled air passes over the openings of the sinuses it picks up nitric oxide (NO). A large percentage of the NO in your body is made and stored in the sinuses. It is an important chemical for the normal functioning of the bronchi and the lungs, causing vaso- and broncho-dilation improving uptake of oxygen3.
Nitric Oxide has also shown to have an antimicrobial effect on bacteria, fungi, helminths, protozoa and viruses, making it an effective part of your immune system4.
When you know what your nose is doing for you with every breath you take, it becomes impossible to ignore the fact, nose breathing is superior to mouth breathing. If newborn infants are unable to breathe through their nose, they are unable to suck. It is an essential function for human development and survival5.
Mouth Breathing vs Nose Breathing
The table below lists the different effects of mouth breathing and nose breathing on facial features and the structure and function of the airways6.
Airway more likely to collapse
Increased risk of infection
Increased chance of snoring
Increased risk of sleep apnea
Crowded and crooked teeth
Activation of the sympathetic nervous system – fight or flight
Narrow dental arch, jaw and palate
Normal facial development
Reduced risk of infection
Deep, diaphragmatic breathing
Normal breathing rate
Reduced chance of snoring
Reduced risk of sleep apnea
More space for teeth
Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system – rest and digest
Correct tongue position and lips together – normal dental arches, jaw and palate
When you breathe through your nose the structures of your face and airway will develop more naturally and function correctly. There is no doubt nose breathing is superior to mouth breathing.
The air you inhale through your nose is filtered, purified, humidified, temperature corrected and nitric oxide is added to it before it enters your lungs. None of this happens when you breathe through your mouth. Only nose breathing ensures the air passing into your lungs is the best quality it can be.
Just as important to your health and quality of life is the effect mouth breathing has on your upper airways. Your jaw becomes narrower making it impossible to fit all thirty-two teeth in your mouth. The lack of pressure on the airways makes it more likely they will collapse while you are sleeping, causing snoring and sleep apnea. Poor sleep is a well-recognised cause of poor physical, mental and cognitive health.
How To Stop Mouth Breathing
How you breathe has a significant impact on your body.
Here are some tips to help you make the switch from mouth breathing to nose breathing7:
- Mouthing Taping: Use temporary mouth closure devices such as garments, straps or tape to keep the mouth closed while sleeping
- Mandibular Advancement Device: The device can be placed inside the mouth to keep the jaw in the right position while you are sleeping. It is important to note these should only be used if you have an adequate nasal airway and you are able to breathe through your nose
- Myofascial Therapy: The movement of your facial features relies on the muscles in your face. You can train these muscles the same way to train any other muscle in your body
- Surgery: This may be an option to correct any deformities that cannot be improved by less invasive procedures.
- Practice Nose Breathing: Practice breathing through the nose during the day when you are awake
Nose Breathing is Superior to Mouth Breathing
Mouth breathing can have a negative impact on your health and your quality of life. Your airway is more likely to collapse while you are sleeping. Sleep apnea is when your airway collapses for a longer period of time and your brain does not get enough oxygen. Your sleep is even further disrupted because you wake up every time this happens.
Nose breathing prevents snoring and sleep apnea and allows you to have a more peaceful night’s sleep. It also forms the first line of defense against infections; it improves the quality of the air entering your lungs, and it improves the absorption of oxygen into the bloodstream. Nose breathing promotes the normal development of facial features, making it easier to breathe and accommodate all of your teeth.
Proper breathing is one of the cornerstones of the Unstress Health Solution. When you breathe well, you are more likely to sleep well and enjoy overall good physical and mental health.
Learn more on ‘How to Breathe Well’
You can also take a deep dive into everything breathing related in the Unstress Deep Dive Program – Breathe.
- Jefferson Y. Mouth breathing: adverse effects on facial growth, health, academics, and behavior – PubMed [Internet]. PubMed. 2010 [cited 2022 Jul 4]. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20129889/
- Bhaje P, Faye A. Sleep Difficulties and Symptoms of Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children with Mouth Breathing. International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry [Internet]. 2021 Nov 20 [cited 2022 Jul 5];(5):604–9. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.5005/jp-journals-10005-1987
- Lundberg JO. Nitric Oxide and the Paranasal Sinuses. The Anatomical Record: Advances in Integrative Anatomy and Evolutionary Biology [Internet]. 2008 Nov [cited 2022 Jul 5];(11):1479–84. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ar.20782
- Martel J, Ko Y-F, Young JD, Ojcius DM. Could nasal nitric oxide help to mitigate the severity of COVID-19? Microbes and Infection [Internet]. 2020 May [cited 2022 Jul 5];(4–5):168–71. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.micinf.2020.05.002
- Trabalon M, Schaal B. It Takes a Mouth to Eat and a Nose to Breathe: Abnormal Oral Respiration Affects Neonates’ Oral Competence and Systemic Adaptation. International Journal of Pediatrics [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2022 Jul 5];1–10. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/207605
- Ruth A. The health benefits of nose breathing [Internet]. Handle Proxy. Nursing In General Practice; 2015 [cited 2022 Jul 5]. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/10147/559021
- Stupak HD. Strategies for Addressing Mouth-Breathing Treatment with an “Adequate” Nose. In: Rethinking Rhinoplasty and Facial Surgery [Internet]. Springer International Publishing; 2020. p. 193–207. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-44674-1_9