If your mouth is open you will be breathing through it. And here is the inside story about how the nose and mouth have completely different cells lining them for different purposes. And the mouth is just NOT designed for frequent air flow!
Your nose is made up of a basement membrane with just one layer of tall column shaped cells. These are puctuated by many other cells whose job is just to produce secretions. The secretions can trap dust and small particles and have antibodies, enzymes and other chemicals that make the nose the first line of defence for air entering the body. Trapped particles are wafted back to the throat by the cilia that wave like a group of syncronised swimmers on top of the columnar cells so they are removed as we swallow.
There are many blood vessels below the basement membrane that warm the air as it passes by. The anatomy of the nose slows the air down and has structures [turbinates]that increase the surface area so air is warmed to body temperature and humidified in less than a second, making it ready to enter the delicate lungs in perfect condition.
Nitric oxide is released in tiny amounts into the air from the sinuses, and this helps clean the air and aids the passage of oxygen between our blood and the air in the lungs.
But the lining of the mouth does NONE of these functions.
And anyone you look at who has an open mouth or parted lips will be a mouth breather.
The inside of the mouth is lined by a basal layer with layers and layers of thin ‘squashed’ [squamous] cells above it. This is very sensible as there is a lot of abrasion on the mouth lining as you chew food, and so the basal region is protected from damage. It is important to note that there are no secretory cells, so the surface region is only kept moist by saliva. You’ll know this, as when you are thirsty your mouth feels dry because your salivary glands are inhibited from producig enough secretions. The same thing happens when you are stressed, as adrenaline makes all the glands of your body produce less, so that all the bodies fluids are redirected to increase your blood volume to keep your blood pressure high.
Then when you relax they all start flowing again. It is one of the reasons why you digest food better when you are relaxed, as all the enzyme producing cells throughout your gut respond in the same way as your mouth’s saliva.
Consequently, if you are a mouth breather, the air flow dries your mouth out and you need to sip fluid off and all day, and at night, it is hard to swallow saliva with your mouth open and you can get a damp patch on the pillow, and you get that awful ‘ my mouth feels like the bottom of a bird cage’ in the morning. It can dry out your gums, give you bad breath and shorten the length of a mouth kiss.
It is worth seeing a respiratory physio if you are a mouth breather. There will always be a reason behind it, e.g.
- you once had a nose injury or surgery and had to breathe through your mouth and it became a habit.
- You have hayfever or allergies and have never learnt how to use a nasal rinse.
- You do too much deep breathing or sigh a lot and it is quieter to do it through your mouth so others don’t comment on it.
- You have a talkative personality or occupation and have developed a large upper chest breathing pattern
- You have an occupation or living situation where the smells are unpleasant so you have taught yourself to be a mouth breather.
- They have found that people with reflux can develop a mouth breathing pattern because of the irritation to the airways.
- A poor posture, where the head is held too far forward can increase the tendency to mouth breath if the tendency to be an upper chest breather is also a factor.
- I wonder if models who have to hold that seductive look of parted lips ever develop a poor breathing pattern?
It is very important that children are not mouth breathers, as their jaw and teeth will not develop properly – so take them to a doctor and ask for a referral to a respiratory physio to be assessed.