If you’re a mouth breather, you’re not alone. While studies differ on just how many people are breathing through their mouth regularly (as opposed to their nose), in one survey, nearly 61% of people identified themselves as such. Studies estimate anywhere from 11% to 56% of children are mouth breathers. To be clear, mouth breathing while doing things like exercise or heavy lifting is natural, but habitual or chronic mouth breathing — AKA when 25%−30% of the air you breathe passes through the mouth instead of the nose — is not ideal, as it affects the quality and quantity of air you’re getting with each inhale (your nose is supposed to act like a human air filter and cuts down on inflammation, and breathing through the nose allows for deep chest expansion for each breath). And habitual or chronic mouth breathers are subject to a series of health concerns, namely chronic fatigue, lung function, and digestive issues. But while mouth breathing can affect these health issues, can it also affect the shape of your face? That’s a big, resounding yes.
Meet the experts
- Arash Moradzadeh, MD, a Beverly Hills-based dual board-certified surgeon in both head and neck surgery and facial plastic and reconstructive surgery.
- Albert Silvera, a doctor of dental surgery also based in Beverly Hills.
Why is mouth breathing bad for you?
“Mouth breathing is a major issue especially if this started before puberty because it can have such a huge impact on the way that your facial structure grows and the end result of what your face is going to look like,” says Arash Moradzadeh, MD, a Beverly Hills-based dual board-certified surgeon in both head and neck surgery and facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. He points to rounder cheeks and an elongated face as ways mouth breathing can manifest.
“Being a mouth breather when you’re a child and your face is developing can lead to an elongated and narrow facial shape that does not have room for teeth or tongue,” adds Albert Silvera, a doctor of dental surgery also based in Beverly Hills. Why? “When you breathe through your nose, your tongue naturally fills your palate space and exerts an upward and outward pressure. It promotes forward growth of the jawbones.” According to Dr. Silvera, without this upward and outward pressure, the weight and force of the facial muscles will cause the top jaw to “fall down” or elongate. This can also lead to the appearance of a gummy smile. Moreover, “the bottom jaw never grows forward fully and [can] lead to an obtuse bottom jaw angle, a retruded chin, crowding of the teeth and a constriction of the space where the tongue is supposed to rest.” These changes aren’t just an aesthetic problem; they work to constrict airway passages, which can affect your sleep — and cumulative medical effects of sleep loss are far-reaching, including increased risk of hypertension, depression, and obesity.
Dr. Moradzadeh also notes that mouth breathers are more likely to have poor posture. “Mouth breathers are more likely to have or develop more a forward tongue posture and jaw and neck posture,” he says. “Their head kind of sticks more forward over time, and that leads to a more curved back posturing.” The negative side effects of poor posture, particularly of the neck and head, include muscle tension (including head, neck, and back pain), headaches, and irregular balance.
How to address issues caused by mouth breathing
In order to address these issues, both Dr. Moradzadeh and Dr. Silvera note that you’ll want to first and foremost, find out why you’re breathing through your mouth. Is it enlarged tonsils and adenoids (the tissue behind the nasal cavity)? A deviated septum? Sleep apnea? A doctor can help figure out your “why” of being a mouth breather — and that’ll help inform how to change your breathing habits. Issues like a deviated septum or enlarged adenoids may require surgery, says Dr. Silvera.