For those of you who thought it could be that all three, given the circumstances, can understand and/ or speak English (think famous Mr Ed the Talking Horse, or Skippy the Bush Kangaroo….), it’s not that.

Humans, horses and kangaroos are born breathing through their noses. That’s right. All three living creatures are nasal breathers.

But, a proportion of one of these creatures has, in recent times, begun mouth breathing. Can you guess who?

Yep, the human being.

“Why?” I hear you ask.

Studies undertaken by a fellow called George Catlin in 1870, who conducted research amongst indigenous North-Americans and wrote a detailed paper entitled “Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life”, reasoned that “there is no animal in nature, excepting Man, that sleeps with the mouth open…which is not natural.” He goes on to say that as opposed to the native American tribes, who, at that time, were reported to be less subject to tooth decay and ill-health, “Civilised…man….is nurtured and raised amidst enervating luxuries and unnatural warmth…”

Current studies have also linked the prevalence of mouth breathing to changes in our western diet – specifically more sugar and preservatives in the diet, leading to higher levels of acidity and disharmony in the gut, causing the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood to be out of whack, and resulting in the body’s need to over-breathe to compensate for this chemical misalignment. And when you breathe through your mouth, you can breathe in more air, in an attempt to repair this imbalance.

Ok, so you think. Isn’t that then the body’s way of adjusting to our modern times and so it’s all ok?


The problem is, thanks to Isaac Newton and his pesky little Third Law of Motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In other words, there are consequences….

Irrespective of the why, what are the effects of mouth breathing? For simplicity, clarity and brevity, I’ll write a list, which is by no means exhaustive:

  • Mouth breathing dries the mouth;
  • Mouth breathing allows airborne objects into the lungs;
  • Mouth breathers are more prone to respiratory infections i.e. colds and ‘flu;
  • Mouth breathing accelerates water loss;
  • Mouth breathing contributes to poor oxygen absorption in the blood;
  • Mouth breathing encourages shallow breathing;
  • Mouth breathing contributes to bed wetting in children and the need for adults to get up during the night to go to the toilet;
  • Mouth breathing encourages the tongue to be incorrectly positioned in the mouth;
  • Mouth breathing affects the growth of the upper jaw and hard palate in children, due to incorrect placement of the tongue, and pressure imbalances of the muscles of the cheeks, often creating a high, narrow palate and leading to crowding of the teeth;
  • Mouth breathing results in a restricted nasal cavity, as 85% of the bones in the nose are shared with the hard palate in the mouth. So, it becomes more difficult to breathe through the nose;
  • Mouth breathing leads to allergies such as hay fever, eczema and sinus problems;
  • Mouth breathing results in bad breath;
  • Mouth breathing encourages snoring, poor sleep patterns and can lead to sleep apnoea in some people;
  • Mouth breathing can lead to poor oral musculature, resulting in speech difficulties (such as lisps) and abnormal or immature swallowing patterns; and,
  • Mouth breathing leads to postural implications: a forward tilting head, body distortions and imbalance, tilted pelvis, poor foot support and other physical ailments – as dental surgeon Dr John Flutter (2006), explains, “There is no distortion in one part of the body that is not reflected throughout the body.”

So, do you breathe through your nose or your mouth? What about your children? Observe them sleeping. Are they nasal breathers or mouth breathers? Can you tick off any of the symptoms above?

And if you can, what should you do about it? Well, you can start breathing through your nose, for a start, but for some people that might be really hard. They might need some help.

That is where I come in, as a Speech Pathologist and, particularly, as an Orofacial Myologist.

 Watch this space for further information – coming soon!

In Positive Health, Canberra. Nel MacBean Speech Pathologist Canberra. Campbell MacBean Psychologist Canberra.