What to Know if You’re a Mouth Breather

Breathing through your mouth, rather than your nose, can come with a host of unpleasant symptoms.

Though mouth breathing happens for different reasons in adults and children, the culprit is usually a nasal obstruction. When we breathe normally through the nose, the air we take in is warmed and moistened before it gets to our lungs. If a person has difficulty breathing through the nose, however, he or she is forced to take in cold, dry air through the mouth.

What causes it?

Essentially an incorrect form of respiration, someone might be a mouth breather for a number of reasons. “Some kids do it out of habit,”  “Their bite may be off, or the position of the jaw and teeth may be such that when they sleep, their lips don’t quite close.”A child may also suffer from abnormally large tonsils, which can obstruct breathing.

Mouth breathing may also occur as a result of a birth defect, like a deviated septum, that may make it more difficult to breathe through the nose. “It could even be a skeletal deformity that has never been picked up on.

Some people, especially older people, can become a mouth breather as a result of taking medication, a condition called xerostomia. “In these cases, the dryness can be painful. It can feel like the mouth is burning,” . Mouth breathing can also develop after glands are damaged during chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Why is it a problem?

One of the most common side effects of mouth breathing is an excessively dry mouth. Under normal conditions, saliva continuously washes bacteria from the mouth. If your mouth is dry, however, that bacteria can more readily take hold and cause problems like cavities. “That’s because dry membranes are easier to invade” 

In children, mouth breathing can also lead to permanent skeletal deformities. That’s because it promotes the growth of the upper jaw, rather than the lower jaw. “The result is a large overbite and a gummy smile.”

Mouth breathing can also cause sleep difficulties, causing people to wake in the night if they aren’t getting enough oxygen. In children, lack of sleep may reduce their ability to pay attention and concentrate at school, which may be mistaken for attention deficit disorder. In adults, mouth breathing can be related to sleep apnea, which causes people to wake frequently at night. “You can end up feeling exhausted the next day” 

Signs of mouth breathing

Natural mouth breather may be able to stave off dryness by remoistening the mouth throughout the day, it will get dry overnight. “Because you are breathing through your mouth all night, you dry out the soft tissues”. Mouth breathers often have chronically red and inflamed gums, even if their oral health is otherwise good. Adults may also find they have bleeding gums, or may get frequent cavities.

Another sign is if the back of your throat feels dry and itchy when you wake up, or there’s a burning sensation. “When you wake up, put a finger over one nostril and try to breathe in while keeping your mouth closed, and then try it on the other side. Any difficulty inhaling could indicate a problem with blocked nasal passageways.”

Because it is so drying, mouth breathing can also cause chronic bad breath. “People tell me they brush their teeth constantly or they chew gum, but the bad breath is still there” 

People who breathe through their mouth at night may have the following symptoms:

Symptoms in children

  • slower than normal growth rate
  • irritability
  • increased crying episodes at night
  • large tonsils
  • dry, cracked lips
  • problems concentrating at school
  • daytime sleepiness

What to do if you’re a mouth breather

It’s important to determine why the mouth breathing is happening before you can correct it. Thorough dental exam will help determine whether mouth breathing is a problem. It’s also important for parents to look for signs of mouth breathing in children, so the problem can be corrected before it worsens.

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