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The Inexplicable Shame of Being a ‘Mouthbreather’

Even the professionals agree — it’s no way to breathe

“I was tripped by this mouthbreather Troy,” Mike Wheeler admits to Eleven on Stranger Things.

“Mouthbreather?” Eleven asks, confused.

“Yeah, you know, a dumb person,” Mike explains.

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Later in the episode, we hear Eleven hurl the “mouthbreather” insult at someone themselves for the first time. Of course, Stranger Things is set in the 1980s, a decade that favored “mouthbreather” as a diss more so than we do today. And yet, the inexplicable shame of being a mouthbreather remains.

“To me the term has always held a negative connotation toward individuals such as myself who breathe loudly and awkwardly,” explains Unkle Funkle, a musician and comedy performer based in L.A. “I’ve always struggled with respiratory problems, including sinus issues, so it’s not always possible for me to breathe through my nose (or my mouth for that matter). As such, I’ve developed the habit of breathing through my mouth.”

It’s pretty easy to understand why someone breathes through their mouth (necessity), but it’s less clear why it’s so deplorable to do so, a respiratory faux pas serious enough that it became its own pejorative. “Mouth-breathing is a ripe target because so many people take issue with ‘mouth stuff’ because it disgusts them, same with chewing with your mouth open or talking with your mouth full. Mouth-breathing can make someone look ‘slack-jawed’ as well. It’s socially perceived to be the result of being stupid, fat and lazy,” Funkle says.

He adds, “It was a common insult for me to hear growing up. I was bullied a lot in school, and even into my adult life and creative career. It’s something of which I’m still often reminded of, especially because trolls on my videos or live streams still call me that.”

Everyone’s been a mouthbreather during a spat of sinus problems or a really bad cold, but according to Steven Lin, a dentist specializing in functional health, breathing through your mouth isn’t equal in efficacy to breathing through your nose. “Nasal breathing is the way to deliver oxygen to the body,” he says. “The nasal sinuses warms and humidifies air, and crucially mixes air with nitric oxide. Nitric oxide increases the perfusion and gas exchange in the lungs. If you breathe through the mouth, you receive none of this. Mouth-breathing is a survival mechanism only, not for day-to-day use.”

Worse yet, mouthbreathers are susceptible to, per Lin, “crooked teeth, cramped jaws and poor posture in kids, and sleep disorders like sleep apnea in adults. Studies now link mouth-breathing to cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia as well.” Lin adds that other long-term consequences include chronic pain in the jaw, head and neck.  He also asserts that people who breathe through their nose are “calmer, more resilient and often have a better developed jaw structure.”

Regarding the mouthbreather jawline: Negative stereotypes about mouthbreathers and their perceived lack of intelligence may relate to this bone structure. “It was noticed that people who mouth-breath have poor cranio-facial or jaw development, which may be associated with negative behavioral habits,” Lin points out.

So what’s a mouthbreather to do? Lin believes a good place to start is using a warm saline rinse to clear the nose, especially before bed. He also says breathing is a habit, so regularly following the steps below could help:

  1. Press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
  2. Close your lips.
  3. Take a deep breath through your nostrils, so your belly is blown up like a balloon.
  4. Inhale for 4 to 5 seconds.
  5. Hold for 1 to 2 seconds.
  6. Exhale for 6 to 7 seconds (or longer than inhale).
  7. Wait 1 to 2 seconds and start again.

You can push things further by building tolerance to CO2 in the nostrils by:

  1. Taking a deep diaphragmatic breath.
  2. Holding your nostrils closed.
  3. Holding your breath for 60 seconds, a good benchmark for strong CO2 tolerance.

After all, the more oxygen you can access, the more you’ll be able to tell your haters to fuck off.