Your nose acts as a filter for the air that comes into your body.
You’ve likely been told that breathing through your nose is better than breathing through your mouth. There are scores of articles on how to stop mouth breathing when you sleep and advice on how to deeply inhale through your nose to optimize your breath. And, there’s a reason breathing through your nose is encouraged.
“From an evolutionary standpoint, that’s the standard default mode — breathing through your nose,” said Dr. Sam Huh, the chief of otolaryngology at Mount Sinai Brooklyn Hospital. In fact, when we’re newborns, we basically can only breathe through our nose, Huh explained.
Have you ever wondered why this is the case? And does this mean all mouth breathing is bad? We asked doctors to break it down for us.
Breathing through your nose is kind of like a filter and a humidifier for your body.
When it comes to health benefits, breathing through your nose is better than breathing through your mouth, experts told HuffPost. And there are many reasons why.
First, our nose hair filters out some of the debris we breathe in, according to Huh. “We also have a lot of mucus, which can sort of trap the smaller things that can be potentially dangerous like little fungal spores or pollen, or maybe even bacteria, some viruses,” Huh said.
Plus, “physiologically, our nose is designed to slow air down as it comes through so that it heats it up to body temperature ... so when air gets to your lungs, it’s completely humidified,” said Dr. Kenneth Fletcher, an assistant professor of otolaryngology — head and neck surgery at Vanderbilt Health in Nashville.
Why is this important? Well, our lungs don’t like dry air, Huh said, “there always has to be some sort of moisture in the lungs in order to keep them open and functioning correctly.”
You know how it can almost hurt to breathe when you’re outside in dry winter air? This is why, Fletcher said.
Breathing through your mouth can lead to discomfort and even dental issues.
“Breathing through the mouth can ... be quite drying, leading to throat discomfort,” said Dr. Peter Manes, a rhinologist at Yale Medicine and associate professor of surgery-otolaryngology at Yale School of Medicine.
And you just don’t get any of the filtration or lung benefits mentioned above. Beyond this, breathing through your mouth too much can harm your teeth, too.
“Mouth breathing ... can lead to issues like enlarged tonsils, teeth grinding (bruxism), jaw joint problems, tooth wear, malocclusion, periodontal disease and more,” Dr. Albert Coombs, owner of Smile Services DC and a member of the International Dental Implant Association, told HuffPost via email.
In other words, breathing through your mouth all night may just undo some of the good you did with your nighttime brushing and flossing routine.
If you struggle to breathe through your nose, it's important to get checked out by a doctor.
But you don’t need to go through extreme measures to always breathe through your nose.
It’s important to know that while it’s overall better to breathe through your nose, there are times when it’s necessary — like when you’re battling a cold. So, you shouldn’t try to cut out mouth breathing altogether.
“This does not mean that breathing through the mouth is bad for you. It just means that breathing through the nose is preferable,” Manes said.
Mouth taping — a practice where you physically tape your mouth shut overnight to make yourself breathe through your nose — has gotten more and more popular in recent months, in large part thanks to TikTok videos, but experts said that it isn’t the ideal way to achieve nasal breathing.
“The concern there would be if you just do that without having any more information about what’s going on, then ... some people actually have nasal obstruction or they have a reason why they are mouth breathing,” Fletcher said.
Before taping your mouth shut at night, it’s important to rule out any underlying issues that are making you breathe through your mouth in the evenings.
“The general advisement would be probably not to do that without having some direction or some sort of examination to determine why you’re a mouth breather,” Fletcher said.
And if you decide to try this after ruling out any underlying issues, it’s important to take precautions.
“If you’re going to try ... don’t use strong tape, make sure it comes off easy,” Huh said. “And also, I really don’t know that there’s much data out there that shows that this can change your breathing pattern,” Huh added.
If you can breathe through your nose, you certainly should, but it’s not worth going to extreme and potentially dangerous measures to get there.
What’s more, if you struggle to breathe through your nose, you should go to an ear, nose and throat doctor to figure out what is going on so you can eventually reap the nasal breathing benefits safely.