Question: Is mouthbreathing harming your health?

Even a small child knows that people breathe through their noses.

Except, of course, that little fact of anatomy isn’t always true. Often, people breathe through their mouths, unaware that this habit could be a sign of potential problems brewing.

“In many cases, people breathe through their mouths because the airways through their noses are blocked,” said Dr. R. Craig Miller, a dentist and author of “Get Back Your Smile, Take Back Your Life.”

“If the situation isn’t addressed, the airway issues can just get worse.”

Among the problems caused by or connected to blocked airways and mouth breathing are misaligned teeth, inflammation of the tonsils and adenoids, an enlarged uvula, obstructive sleep apnea and TMD, a disorder of the jaw muscles or joints.

A variety of treatment options can help alleviate some of these problems, Miller said. Just a few of those treatments are:

Laser light therapy. This therapy can provide immediate relief for TMD, although its effects are temporary. “In spite of its name, there is no heat or burning sensation as you might think, which is why we refer to it in my practice as cold laser,” Miller said. This therapy has been shown to increase circulation by stimulating the formation of additional blood vessels to replace damaged ones. The therapy also stimulates the production of collagen, the essential protein used to repair and replace damaged tissue.

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). With a CPAP machine, patients wear a mask during sleep that seals over their nose and mouth, or over their nose only. The CPAP opens up the airway, Miller says, by feeding positive air pressure though the mask via a hose connected to the CPAP machine. CPAPs have their problems, though, he says. They can cause laceration of the bridge of the nose, rawness in the throat, bloating in the stomach, nasal congestion and sleep deprivation. People also aren’t always good about using them.

Oral appliance therapy for OSA. An oral appliance that is custom-designed and fabricated for the individual patient can provide relief for sleep apnea, Miller says. Known as mandibular-repositioning appliances, they are worn during sleep and reposition the lower jaw, advancing it forward to change the shape of the airway and open it up to make breathing easier.

Surgery. Surgery can be helpful where there is an anatomical obstruction, such as large tonsils or adenoids, or an enlarged uvula, Miller said.

“It’s better for your health to take care of your mouth-breathing problem, perhaps in more ways than people realize,” Miller said. “Nose breathing is proper breathing. It allows you to smell some of life’s beautiful scents, but also acts as a detector when air is unhealthy.

“Breathing through the nose also promotes a more meditative state, helping you stay calmer by reducing anxiety while improving your ability to think clearly. All in all, it’s important to remember that noses are for breathing, mouths are for eating.”