What is the deal with mouth breathing?! It seems that mouth breathing is becoming a very prominent topic…and for good reason! Babies, children, and adults are all meant to breathe with their mouths closed, and breathe through their nose, called nasal breathing. Nasal breathing is important to develop, especially during infancy! Nasal breathing is important because….
When a mouth is closed, the optimal position is for the tongue to be up, suctioned against the palate. This prolonged suction against the palate helps to develop the palate into a nice, rounded U shape. If the tongue does not rest suctioned to the palate, the palate becomes narrow and high, which makes the nasal cavity narrow.
When we breathe through our nose, “feel good hormones” are released and the parasympathetic system is activated. When we mouth breathe, stress hormones are released and a fight/flight response is more often triggered.
Nasal breathing supports nitric oxide exchange and allows air to reach the lower part of our lungs for a fuller breath. When we mouth breathe, we work harder to breathe, may become a chest breather with shorter breaths, which in turn, puts increased cardiovascular stress on your body.
Nasal breathing filters, moistens, and warms air before going into our lungs. When we mouth breathe, the unfiltered air hits our tonsils and adenoids, leading to irritation and inflammation.
Mouth breathing can impact quality of sleep, may cause you to wake frequently, and puts you at higher risk for sleep disorders such as snoring and sleep apnea. These sleep disorders are often associated with daytime lethargy, impulsivity, learning difficulties, and hyperactivity.
Tongue-ties and a tongue resting posture on the bottom of the mouth can lead to mouth breathing. If left untreated, they can lead to structural and functional changes in the craniofacial-respiratory complex that can impact breast/bottle feeding, transitioning to solids.
Mouth breathing can impact face shape! Those who mouth breathe are more likely to develop long, harrow facial structures with less prominent jaws and retracted chins.
Written by Occupational Therapist and Skyrocket Co-Founder, Katie Oien, OTD, OTR/L, MS, BCP, CASI, CNS.