The Effects of Being a Mouth Breather vs. Nose Breather

Most people don’t think about how they breathe. Some people breathe through their mouths, while others do so through their noses. If you breathe through your mouth, there are exercises you can try to change your breathing patterns.

This article discusses the effects of mouth breathing vs. nose breathing and offers tips for changing how you inhale and exhale.    

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Effect of Facial Structure on Breathing

The structure of your face and mouth influences whether you’re a mouth or nose breather. Medical conditions that affect the sinuses and upper respiratory tract can alter that structure. Additionally, the way you breathe can influence jaw and skull development.

Mouth Breathing

Breathing through your mouth or nose isn't a conscious decision, especially in children or infants and during sleep. Your breathing patterns may change due to congestion or obstruction of the sinuses and nasal passages.

Mouth breathing, especially throughout childhood and adolescence, can also affect your face and jaw anatomy. Researchers have identified several such effects on anatomy, including:

  • Increased mandibular plane angle: The mandibular plane angle is the angle made by the relative positions of the maxilla (the upper jaw bone) and the mandible (the lower jaw bone).
  • Increased total facial height: People who breathe with their mouths have a higher facial height, which is the distance from the glabella (midpoint between the brows) and the menton (lowest part of the chin). In addition, the lower anterior facial height—the space between the nose and menton—is longer.
  • Decreased posterior facial height: People who breathe through their mouths also have a reduced posterior (rear) facial height, the area around the ears and between the lower jaw bone and the sella (a point near the center of the skull base).

These anatomical changes can change the overall appearance of your face. People who chronically breathe through their mouths may appear with their upper jaw protruding over the lower, a more prominent forehead, and a long, narrow face. In addition, the head may appear pushed forward relative to the shoulders.

Mouth breathing can also affect tongue position. When you mouth-breathe, your tongue is lower than usual to allow for extra air.

Mouth Breathing as a Derogatory Term

Historically, “mouth breather” has been used as a derogatory term to describe someone as stupid or unintelligent. This is an unfair characterization; how you breathe has nothing to do with intelligence.    

Nose Breathing

Though both kinds of breathing convey oxygen to the lungs, the human body is naturally inclined towards nasal breathing, which can only occur when nasal passages are unobstructed. When you breathe through your nose, your lips should close comfortably with your teeth separated slightly.

In side-by-side studies of mouth and nose breathers, researchers noted that nose breathing is associated with several other general facial characteristics, including:

  • A proper alignment of the upper and lower jaw
  • Alignment of the teeth
  • Facial height and mandibular plane angle within the average range

Is One Better for You Than the Other?

While both types of breathing get oxygen to the body, there are several distinct advantages to nose breathing:

  • Filtering air: When you breathe through your nose, hairs in the nasal passages, known as cilia, filter out dust, allergens, pollution, and other particles.
  • Moisture in the inhale: Bony structures in your nose called nasal turbinates help moisturize the air you inhale, promoting lung and throat function.
  • Temperature control: Turbinates in the nose also regulate inhaled air temperature, which helps with lung function and body temperature regulation.

Mouth breathing can affect your dental health. Malocclusion, a misalignment of the jaw bones, can cause crooked or damaged teeth. Breathing with your mouth makes it drier, harming your teeth and gum health, leading to gingivitis (gum disease), periodontitis (infection of the gums), and cavities, among other issues.

Mouth Breathing in Infants and Children

Infants primarily breathe through their noses as their tongues and throats strengthen. However, inflammation of the adenoids, asthma, chronic colds, or other issues can cause them to breathe through their mouth. If you suspect your child is breathing this way, talk to their healthcare provider.

Side Effects of Sleeping With Mouth Open

Sleeping with your mouth open can lead to several dental and health problems. Dry mouth at night is a common occurrence in people who sleep with their mouths open and can cause several issues:

  • Dry, cracked lips
  • Bad breath (known clinically as halitosis)
  • Mouth soreness
  • Drooling
  • Cavities
  • Gingivitis
  • Difficulty with swallowing and talking

What Determines What Kind of Breather You Are?

The majority of people breathe through their noses. Clinically, mouth breathing is defined as getting 25 to 30% of your air through the mouth rather than the nose. Nasal obstruction is at the root of most problems associated with mouth breathing. Conditions leading to nasal obstruction include:

  • Narrow passages: Nasal congestion due to allergy, common cold, flu, or sinusitis (sinus infection) can cause the tissues lining the nasal passages to become inflamed.
  • Enlarged adenoids: Adenoids are patches of tissue in the upper throat behind the nose. They can become swollen due to infection (and sometimes remain so afterward), narrowing nasal passages and causing nasal obstruction.
  • Adenotonsillar hypertrophy: This condition causes swelling along the nasal passages, obstructing them and leading to mouth breathing. This inflammation may result from infection, allergies, asthma, or other reasons.
  • Deviated septum: Clinically known as nasal septal deviation, a deviated septum is when your septum (the cartilage and bone that separates your nasal passages) is significantly off-center. Some people are born with this condition, whereas others develop it due to an injury.  
  • Nasal turbinate hypertrophy: When the nasal turbinates become enlarged and limits airflow, it obstructs the nasal passages, leading to mouth breathing.    

How Do You Stop Mouth Breathing?

If you’re concerned about mouth breathing, there are techniques to help you change your respiratory patterns. Breath exercises can boost lung strength and function and help improve anxiety, stress, and sleep. Several yogic breathing techniques can help you retrain your breathing patterns.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

An exercise known within the yogic practice as Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing is commonly recommended to help with breathing. Research has shown this yoga exercise to improve lung and heart health and cognitive function.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Also called “belly breathing,” diaphragmatic breathing aims to involve the diaphragm, which is the major breathing muscle located beneath the lungs. As with other breathing exercises, this approach helps improve lung function and reduce stress, among other benefits.

Breath of Fire

Referred to as Kapalabhati, the breath of fire is an exercise that focuses on normal inhalation and quicker, more powerful exhalation. As with other yoga practices, it is beneficial for breath and lung function and can help with anxiety, memory, and other cognitive tasks.

 Summary

Most people breathe through their noses, but some do so through their mouths. While both types of breathing succeed in getting oxygen to the lungs, nose breathing is more efficient and offers several health benefits.

Mouth breathing is typically the result of blockages in the nasal passages and is associated with dental and health problems. If you breathe with your mouth, breathing exercises can help you retrain your respiratory patterns.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is mouth breathing bad for your face?


    People who chronically breathe through their mouths may have an upper jaw that protrudes over their lower jaw, a more prominent forehead, and a long, narrow face. In addition, the head may appear pushed forward relative to the shoulders. Mouth breathing can cause misalignment of the jaw, causing crooked teeth.

  • At what age does mouth breathing become a problem?

    Breathing primarily or exclusively through the mouth is a problem at any age. People who do are more likely to develop dental issues, such as cavities, crooked teeth, and chronic bad breath. In addition, mouth breathing in infants and children can affect the development of the jaw, affecting the facial structure.

  • How do you know if you’re a mouth or nose breather?

    Nose breathing is considered normal and is not associated with health effects. Signs that you may be mouth breather include sleep apnea (stopping and restarting breathing throughout the night), sleeping with your mouth open, dry mouth, drooling while asleep, problems getting enough rest, itchiness in the nose, and nasal congestion.

    You also may be more prone to dental problems, such as gum disease (gingivitis), gum infection (periodontitis), and chronic bad breath (halitosis).             

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Mark Gurarie
Mark Gurarie is a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct lecturer of writing composition at George Washington University.