Don't Be a Mouthbreather
“Don’t be a mouthbreather” is today’s motto. The term “mouthbreather” has been tossed around to mean someone who is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Generally, mouthbreathers are characterized by a mouth hanging agape, possibly with a fly or two buzzing in and out, with a thousand mile stare plastered on their face. This image is definitely not one that screams intellect and as it turns out, it actually is smarter to breathe through your nose.
As we continue to wear masks, many catch themselves breathing through their mouths a lot more throughout the day. Whether it is to keep an ill-fitting mask on, to keep the fabric off our noses or simply because we feel more oxygen hungry than usual, it is important to check in throughout the day and make sure we are breathing through our nose and not our mouth even while wearing a mask. This can feel like quite the adjustment, but can pay dividends in the long run. The primary purposes of the mouth are for communication and digestion. When necessary, the mouth can step in to help if the nose is congested or unable to perform its respiratory job effectively, but it was never designed to be a major part of the respiratory system. When we breathe through our mouths we generally are breathing into our upper chest which is inefficient and far more tiring. This can lead to hypoventilation which decreases the oxygenation of tissues (we’ll get more into this later). It also tricks our body into thinking it is in a state of stress since that is how we breathe when we encounter stressors or are afraid. Studies have found that people who breathe through their mouth, especially if they do so as children, can end up with dysfunctional jaw joints, a narrowing of the dental arch, jaw and palate, crowded or crooked teeth, and an overbite (Ruth). Most of these things can be corrected, but if someone continues breathing through their mouth it will be a lot harder to maintain orthodontic corrections. If you are breathing through your mouth during the day, this means you are most likely breathing through your mouth at night which can result in snoring and is a sign of sleep apnea. In addition to all this, breathing through your mouth can cause bad oral hygiene and bad breath because it dries out your mouth and affects saliva production (Chavoustie). Thankfully, we can avoid all of the side effects of being a mouthbreather by improving our nasal breathing.
When you breathe through your nose, you are first and foremost filtering the air coming into your body which is a huge step in the respiratory system. The tiny hairs and mucus membrane in the nose helps keep airborne pathogens out of your lungs. This keeps us healthier in the long run by being a first line of defense against colds, flus, hay fever, and other irritants floating around in the air. Breathing through your nose also humidifies and warms the air you are breathing which makes the air easier for the lungs to use. Unlike mouth breathing, nasal breathing slows down the airflow which in turn helps us sync up with our parasympathetic system. This allows the diaphragm to work efficiently and relaxes the body. By slowing down our breathing, we are also allowing more oxygen to be delivered to our tissue (Mercola). Most importantly, nasal breathing releases nitric oxide, an antimicrobial gas that is a vasodilator and bronchodilator that increases the transportation of oxygen throughout the body. (Ruth). Nitric oxide helps lower the blood pressure and increases the lungs’ oxygen uptake through local vasodilation (Lundberg). When breathing through your nose, you don’t dump out as much CO2 as you do when you breathe through your mouth. CO2 is not simply a waste product, but actually helps with oxygen utilization. If your CO2 level gets too low, your blood’s pH can change, impairing your hemoglobin’s ability to release oxygen to your cells (Mercola).
There are many ways to help yourself practice nasal breathing (Mercola). Check in with how you are breathing throughout the day by seeing if you are breathing through your nose every time you do a repetitive action (i.e. go through a door, sit down, stand up, etc.). There are lots of different techniques to practice nasal breathing, the most simple being meditation. It can be useful to take 5 minutes every day to sit and simply focus on nasal breathing. It is also important to focus on breathing through your nose even while you are participating in strenuous activities such as exercise. Breathing through your nose does offer more airflow resistance, but can help prevent you from hyperventilating which will in turn better oxygenate your cells (Berman). This does not mean you should never breathe through your mouth. Instead, be conscious of when you actually need to breathe through your mouth and when you are opening your mouth simply out of habit. This simple change could be the breath of fresh air your health routine needs.
Berman, J. (2019, January 30). Perspective | could nasal breathing improve athletic performance?
Dallam, G. M., McClaren, S. R., & Foust, C. P. (2008, April). (PDF) effect of nasal VERSUS
Oral breathing On Vo2max and PHYSIOLOGICAL economy in RECREATIONAL Runners
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Lundberg, J. O. (2008, November). Nitric oxide and the paranasal sinuses. Retrieved from
Mercola, J., Dr. (2019, January 31). Top breathing techniques for better health. Retrieved from
Ruth, A., Dr. (2015, January). The Health Benefits of Nose Breathing. Retrieved from
Wollan, M. (2019, April 23). How to be a nose breather. Retrieved from