Let’s take a moment for a deep breath in and out. Are you breathing through your nose, or your mouth? Perhaps going through the motions of inhalation and exhalation might not be at the top of your mind during your daily tasks, but you’ll be surprised to find that many of us are actually doing it all wrong. And beneath the suffocating masks coupled with Singapore’s scorching heat, you might just find yourself panting through your mouth unknowingly. But let’s get this straight: relying on your mouth to breathe isn’t the right way—you should be primarily breathing through your nose.
Over the course of the pandemic, TikTok users have been finding themselves obsessed with fixing their breathing habits, resorting to taping their mouths shut at night in hopes of ridding the habit once and for all. In the Internet’s pursuit of physical perfection down to the tiniest detail, mouth breathing is yet another habit TikTokers are trying to kick in order to attain a sharper jawline and better facial symmetry. And while it may sound like yet another baseless beauty fad upon first glance, mouth breathing is far more dangerous beyond the surface level detriments involving physical beauty.
According to Dr Annabelle Leong, Ear Nose Throat (ENT) specialist from The ENT Clinic—mouth breathing is not an issue to shrug off. In fact, there’s a long list of adverse effects to take note of if you’re a mouth breather, which can lead to serious long term medical and aesthetic deformities.
@corylrodriguez 👄 MOUTH TAPING EVERY NIGHT!…Better #sleep, better #oralhealth and no #drymouth #sleeping #mouthbreathing #breathing #healthy #energy #breathe ♬ original sound – Corylrodriguez
Below, we check in with Dr Leong on mouth breathing—from how it affects your facial development to your sleep health. If you’re a chronic mouth breather, keep reading for tips on how to get your breathing back on track.
There’s no upside to mouth breathing…
“Mouth breathing tends to be an indicator of an underlying medical condition that causes obstruction in the airway,” explains Dr Leong. “It’s hard to tell what comes first: it could be sinus or nasal issues that lead to mouth breathing, or in other cases, the initial habit of mouth breathing leading to other medical and dental complications. Most of us pick up the habit as children for various reasons, be it enlarged tonsils or nasal allergies. This tends to be a crucial time for facial development, so if you’re growing with your jaw consistently in a drooping state with your mouth open and slack, your facial bones inevitably end up growing in a certain way to accommodate the mouth breathing.”
She also sheds light on the results of long term mouth breathing. Long-face syndrome—the appearance of an elongated facial structure that comprises an underdeveloped jaw, protruding teeth and crooked nose, which gives rise to a convex side-profile. And what’s worse—mouth breathing doesn’t just affect the lower portion of our faces, but also poorly defined cheekbones.
@the_airway_champion Mouthbreathing has consequences #mouthbreathing #airwayhealth #greenscreen ♬ original sound – Airway Health Matters
Besides the aesthetic detriments of mouth breathing, the habit contributes to a myriad of other health concerns relating to the teeth. Poor saliva production, tooth decay, gum diseases, teeth grinding are all linked with chronic mouth breathing. “ENT doctors and orthodontists tend to work hand in hand to solve this problem, as the issue of mouth breathing heavily involves teeth and jaw development.”
Aside from strenuous activity and during exercise, you should primarily be breathing through your nose, especially during sleep. According to Dr Leong: “How we breathe is heavily linked with our sleep habits. Sleep apnea tends to be a common issue for mouth breathers because their tongue falls backwards and closes off the airway, so they’re not getting enough oxygen flow through the nose, thus relying on the mouth to breathe. This can cause jaw joint dysfunction, pain, poor sleep quality and even migraines. Sleep apnea also carries a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes if not treated promptly.”
Warning signs to look out for
Obvious warning signs you should be looking out for are waking up with a dry mouth, experiencing a recurring blocked nose, snoring and even teeth grinding. Poor sleep quality tends to be closely linked with chronic mouth breathers, if you’re waking up tired all the time, it might be indicative of poor breathing patterns at night. “Most people tend to spend years being a mouth breather without knowing it, and it becomes a habit that’s difficult to correct even if we’ve sorted out the airflow and orthodontic issues.”
Getting your breathing back on track
The road to nasal breathing is basically a process of retraining your tongue position and muscle memory. Your tongue should be resting right against the roof of your mouth, but it shouldn’t be pressing against any of your teeth. And unfortunately, there’s no magic solution to preventing mouth breathing except for being conscious of it, and actively making sure your mouth stays closed throughout the day.
For those really looking to curb the habit, medical tape or specialised mouth breathing tape may aid the process especially at night when you’re asleep. Using sleep trackers to monitor your oxygen levels and sleep quality can also prove to be helpful in identifying the issues you’re facing.
While the aforementioned can be helpful tips, Dr Leong maintains that the best way to rid the habit once and for all is to get checked with an ENT specialist. “Mouth breathing is really just the tip of the iceberg, so make sure to identify why you’re breathing through the mouth then deal with the causes as necessary. Though a piece of tape may help the process, it’s more important to solve the underlying medical causes as that’s how you really see the results. I see many cases where mouth breathing is simply a side effect of something going on elsewhere. So by getting a nasal endoscopy, we’re able to identify and solve the root of the problem, and get the right referrals to orthodontists if needed.”
For more serious cases of mouth-breathing habit that persist even after the root cause of the mouth-breathing has been treated, some patients may need to undergo myofunctional therapy. Myofunctional therapy works by repeating a set of tongue and throat exercises that increases the strength of muscles involved. And the end goal is to achieve a normal resting tongue position, which in the long run, will help widen the airway for better nasal breathing.