There’s a wealth of information on the internet - some good, some bad (ok, a lot bad) - so when we saw a TikTok video about how mouth breathing can dramatically alter the structure of our faces, we couldn’t help but wonder if it had merit. The medical cosmetics industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, so is it really possible that instead of getting masseter Botox or Kybella you can get a more defined jawline by improving your breathing habits?
We interviewed Maryland-based board certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon Samuel Hahn, MD and cosmetic dentists Anjali Rajpal, DMD, of Beverly Hills Dental Arts and Stacy Spizuoco, DDS, of True Dental NYC to determine whether these TikTok videos had any validity. Spoiler: our findings might surprise you!
WHY IS MOUTH BREATHING BAD?
The negative effects associated with mouth breathing aren’t anything new. In fact, the topic actually dates back to the 1800’s when author George Catlin warned about the dangers of mouth breathing in his book titled Shut Your Mouth. While it wasn’t backed by science then, there is ample research today that confirms the benefits of nasal breathing. The biggest advantage? The hundreds of nose hairs that filter out any toxins and control temperature. Mouth breathing, on the other hand, is a less efficient way to get oxygen and has many health risks.
Most of us know whether we’re mouth breathers or not. Common tell-tale signs are a dry mouth, bad breath, snoring, or being a loud breather. What’s less obvious is determining why you may be a mouth breather. Generally, mouth breathing is caused by structural issues, like a deviated septum, nasal valve collapse, turbinate hypertrophy, adenoid hypertrophy, or nasal polyps. But, environmental factors like anxiety, allergens, or viruses can also result in poor breathing habits.
The most obvious side effect of chronic mouth breathing is poor dental health. As Dr. Spizuoco explains, the mouth needs saliva to cover the teeth and gums to prevent bacteria and decay. This becomes problematic when the mouth is constantly open and, as a result, dry.
Training yourself to become a nasal breather isn’t an overnight task — especially if there’s a medical reason why you breathe through your mouth. A quick way to determine whether or not you’re an accidental mouth breather (vs a mouth breather out of necessity) is to do a simple test: close your mouth and inhale through your nostrils. If there’s any type of obstruction, you may benefit from meeting with an ENT. Depending on the structure of your nose, an ENT might recommend a functional rhinoplasty (a medically necessary nose job) or prescribe medication, like antihistamines.
MOUTH BREATHING AND FACIAL APPEARANCE
So, does mouth breathing really change your facial structure? The short answer: yes… but only if chronic mouth breathing is present at a young age.
According to Dr. Hahn, if mouth breathing starts at an early age, it can affect the development of the upper jaw (maxilla) and palate, which translates to a narrower midface, nose, and more sunken appearance of the cheeks.
When we breathe through our mouth, Dr. Rajpal explains that the tongue is positioned downward instead of resting on the roof of the mouth. In this position, the tongue can misalign the teeth rather than facilitate the growth of a wide palate and formation of a broad nasal cavity.
Both specialists agree that these changes need to be addressed immediately, as not to cause permanent damage. “The key to treating the symptoms associated with mouth breathing is to diagnose it at an early stage while jaw development is still easily adaptable,” Dr. Rajpal advises. “The early recognition of these facial patterns by a joint effort of a multidisciplinary team that includes a pediatrician, orthodontist, and otorhinolaryngologist can help reduce the detrimental effects of breathing impairments on facial characteristics before impaired growth has proceeded irreversibly.”
As Dr. Hahn and Dr. Rajpal explain, you can’t actually reverse chronic mouth breathing’s effects on adult facial structure, despite what social media says. There may be some very subtle changes to facial structure when undergoing treatment for chronic mouth breathing but Dr. Hahn wouldn't consider them dramatic.
“Any positive changes are probably mostly due to improved quality of life (e.g. exercise capacity, decreased fatigue) and improved sleep quality rather than any structural changes to their face,” Dr. Hahn says. Proper breathing can help improve skin quality and appearance, decrease dark circles and bags under the eyes, and increase exercise capacity.
HOW TO IMPROVE BREATHING
Regardless of age, there’s still opportunity to change breathing habits. If mouth breathing is present at a young age, it’s best to correct it immediately — especially since it can impact the face’s development.
“While a patient is still young and within the teenage years, it is an ideal time to correct the malformations with palatal expansion devices and myofunctional therapy to retrain the muscles to perform correctly as well as incorporating breathing exercises. Also, any potential tongue ties need to be released for free movement of the tongue,” Dr. Rajpal says.
To combat mouth breathing later in life, Dr. Spizuoco explains that dentists approach the issue by expanding the narrow [dental] arch through orthodontics and sometimes surgery (e.g. jaw or adenotonsil surgery). “The chronic mouth breather will also need to retrain the muscles of their face. That includes how to close their mouth properly, swallow, breath through their nose, speech therapy and sleeping positions,” Dr. Spizuoco adds.
For nonsurgical remedies, Dr. Hahn recommends oral antihistamines, nasal sprays, mechanical dilators (e.g. Breathe Right strips or nasal cones). These solutions are not corrective, but can be used to improve nasal airflow as directed by your board-certified doctor. As for the viral mouth taping trend, Dr. Hahn strongly urges against it. Not only can it restrict breathing but also it can lead to anxiety and panic attacks during sleep.
If medically necessary, there are a number of corrective surgeries that can help improve nasal breathing. According to Dr. Hahn, this could include septoplasty, rhinoplasty, nasal valve repair, inferior turbinate reduction, tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy, or maxillomandibular advancement surgery. The takeaway
The negative side effects of mouth breathing are widely accepted, but its impact on facial structure really only applies if it bagan in adolescence. While the habit won’t impact your appearance as an adult, Dr. Hahn and Dr. Rajpal emphasize the importance of correcting the issue. Becoming a nasal breather has many benefits, like improving oral health and increasing exercise capacity.
While a corrective nasal surgery won’t directly impact facial appearance, it should increase quality of life. And, if you were hoping to address certain problem areas, you can always blend a functional surgery with a cosmetic one!
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