Even though most of us breathe through our mouths on occasion, the mouth was not
designed to continually serve as the primary pathway for respiration. The specialized anatomy and physiology of the lips-to-lungs pathway compared to that of the nose-to-lungs pathway belies their very different primary functions for optimal health.
The oral cavity system, including the lips, serves two primary functions: 1) acquiring and processing foods and beverages for digestion, and 2) speaking and non-verbal communicating. The complex and mostly habit-trained interactions of the structures of the mouth allow us as humans to safely survive and thrive on a wide variety of foods and beverages in a multitude of environments. The oral secretion, known as saliva, lubricates tissues and consumables alike and provides digestive enzymes and immune proteins to provide some protection from certain ingested pathogens.
The Oral Cavity System
Who hasn’t been warmed by the upturned lips of a pleasant smile or warned by the pursed lips of an angry scowl? Not only do the individual parts of the oral cavity system have specific functions, but those parts must work together seamlessly to support optimal health at every age. When the structures or the use of those structures is negatively impacted by abnormal development, inappropriate usage and habits, pathogens, or toxins, the whole human organism is detrimentally affected. For example, breathing through the mouth induces transient gum inflammation (gingivitis) of the exposed gum surfaces.
Another example concerning breathing through the mouth is that the volume of air taken in exceeds the demand for air, which causes hyper-oxygenation (excess oxygen) and hypocapnia (reduced carbon dioxide) to occur, with many adverse side effects. Additionally, the size and position of the oral cavity system components can adversely affect the airflow through the nasal airway system, especially the size and position of the tongue, bony projections called tori, teeth mal-positions, the shape and relationships of the dental arches, and the extent and depth of the palate toward the nasal airway pathway.
Anatomy of the Nasal Airway
The anatomy of the nasal airway pathway is uniquely designed to facilitate air passage from the exterior to the lungs, expel waste products, and neutralize toxins and pathogens from the body. The nasal airway pathway includes the soft tissues of the nose, through the highly blood-vessel-and-nerve-tissue-invested convoluted bony tissues of the nasal cavity (the turbinates), crossing across the sensory receptors for the sense of smell, emptying into the retropharnyx (throat), passing the immune system structures known as the tonsils and the adenoids, and communicating directly with the mucus-producing sinuses.
All these structures have specialized and coordinated functions for proper respiration and optimal health. The external right and left nasal passages (nostrils) function to stimulate either the right or left brain during nasal cycling. The nasal airway system serves to warm and moisten inspired air for greater oxygen exchange in the lungs, to detect molecular concentrations of noxious airborne substances, to filter particulates from inspired air, to capture pathogens in mucus and track them to the stomach where stomach acid neutralizes them, and to produce nitric oxide, the body’s natural blood pressure regulator.
When we breathe consistently through the mouth, we are bypassing this vitally important
protective system to the detriment of optimal health. So, eat and speak via your mouth, but leave the heavy breathing to the nasal airway system.
Kevin Norige, DMD, is the founder and chief dentist at South Windsor Smiles, a private dental practice that focuses on oral health as part of the whole-body system. For over 35 years he has worked with patients to achieve a healthy mouth and live a healthier life.
Call 860.288.2111 or: www.SouthWindsorSmiles.com.