Health
May 10, 2021
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How we breathe matters

By: George Malkemus
April 2, 2021

During the Tubbs fire of 2017, when my wife's mother Mary lost her Fountain Grove home in Santa Rosa, I first became aware of the need to breathe through my nose.  During 2020 with COVID-19 and the on-going fire season, breathing through my nose and wearing a mask had renewed importance for me.  I had known the problems with mouth breathing for many years.

Mouth breathing in adults causes various health issues, beyond respiratory infections.  These include snoring, bad breath and obstructive sleep apnea. A healthy adult normally breathes through the nose while resting or doing light exercise. Excessive mouth breathing causes dehydration and dries out the mouth, which can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.  

Mouth breathing in children poses special problems. Mouth breathing can result in oral and facial damage that will affect a child his or her entire lifetime unless it is diagnosed and treated as early as possible. If diagnosed before a child turns five years old, the effects can usually be completely corrected or avoided.

Allergies and swollen tonsils or adenoids can cause the inability to breathe through the nose leading to mouth breathing. These conditions can result in changes in the facial structure, a smaller mouth, or crooked teeth.

Having a frequent runny nose, ongoing colds, recurring earaches and sore throats are not part of a normal childhood, or adulthood for that matter.  They might be dismissed as signs of allergies. However, they might be a result of mouth breathing.  There is cause for concern when a child or adult is forced to breathe through their mouth. 

The importance of exercise and heathy diet have been in our mainstream culture for many decades, but the importance of breathing correctly has only recently been given a renewed emphasis.   I recently finished reading ‘Breath’ by James Nestor, copy write 2020, which I would highly recommend.  The following is a summary of ‘Breath.’

Shut your mouth

Chronic mouth breathing is unhealthy, leading to hypertension (high blood pressure),  increased heart rate, chronic snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.  Short term mouth breathing is normal when the nose is blocked or the sympathetic nervous system (flight or fright response) is stimulated.  Mouth breathing is designed as an emergency bac0 up system.  But prolonged, chronic mouth breathing causes stress release, fatigue, testiness and anxiety.  Also, there are metabolic and cognitive problems with vascular constriction and increased PH levels in the blood.  

Breathe through your nose

Nose breathing filters the air, reducing infections and nasal and sinus congestion  It reduces blood pressure and normalizes heart rate.  Breathing through the nose improves sleep, reduces snoring and sleep apnea, which in turn reduces fatigue and increases energy.  Nasal breathing increases physical performance.  James Nestor increased his performance on the stationary bike by about 10 percent.  Olympic athletes had even greater increases in performance with practiced nasal breathing.

Exhale

Take fuller, longer and slower breaths.  Avoid shallow quick ‘over breathing.’  Move the diaphragm fully up and down.  Make sure to exhale completely before taking another inhalation.  “Most of us engage only a small fraction of our total lung capacity with each breath, requiring us to do more and get less.”  Breath therapy, which teaches exhaling longer, has cured asthmatics and emphysemics; “opera singers gained more resonance and tone in their voices  and Olympic sprinters went on to win gold medals.”   

Chew

Pre-industrial humans (prior to 300 years ago) had larger sinus cavities, strong jaws, and straight teeth, directly related to chewing tough, firm foods.  With the advent of soft processed foods and with less chewing needed, humans have smaller sinus spaces, smaller jaw widths, reduced space for the tongue and crowded teeth.  This leads to a smaller airway and mouth breathing in children and adults.  Diet should “consist of rougher, rawer and heartier foods our great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmothers ate.”  

Chewing firmer foods is equally important for adults, as well as children, since facial bones continue to grow throughout life.   Nestor gained 1,658 cubic mm (millimeters) of new cheek and right eye socket bone, 118 cubic mm of bone along his nose and 178 cubic mm on his upper jaw after one year of using a Belfor’s retainer.  It is designed to open airways and grow facial bone with a constant chewing pressure on the jaws.  Traditional orthodontic thought believed facial bones did not change or grow after the late teenage years. This is now found to be false and actually facial bones continue to remodel throughout life.     

Breath more, on occasion

“Feeding the body more air than it needs is damaging for the lungs right down to the cellular level.  Today, the majority of us breathe more than we should, without realizing it.”   But occasional conscious, forced heavy breathing for a short intense time is found to be therapeutic.  By purposely stressing the body through heavy intense breathing, the body can be reprogramed into a normal relaxed state.

Hold your breath

CO2 levels in the blood trigger the need to breath.  When holding one’s breath, the CO2 level will rise and cause a near panic need to breath, even though oxygen levels are still good.  Psychology studies have shown that by conditioning anxious people to hold their breath longer and longer, their anxiety becomes greatly reduced. People’s anxiety is often a physical manifestation of poor breathing and not actually a mental problem. 

How we breathe matters

Breath slowly through the nose with full exhalation.  “The perfect breath is this: Breathe in for about 5.5 seconds, then exhale for 5.5 seconds.  That’s 5.5 breaths a minute for a total of about 5.5 liters of air.”  The appendix of Nestor’s ‘Breath’ contains many different methods of breathing practices and therapies. It is worth a look.  

Let Us All Breathe Slowly and Fully Through Our Filtering Noses! And Don’t Forget to Chew!

 

Enjoy Life and Keep Smiling!

 

George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@ malkemusdds.com.  Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at http://www.malkemusdds.com