The dangers of mouth-breathing and mouth-taping
You have two ways for air to get into your lungs: through your nose and mouth.
Most people breathe through both their nose and mouth. But some people breathe primarily through their mouth, including when they sleep. Chronic mouth-breathing can cause health problems, however.
In children, these problems include crooked teeth, facial deformities, and poor growth. And in adults, chronic mouth-breathing may result in gum disease, bad breath, and throat and ear infections.
Mouth-breathing can be beneficial when your nose is congested from allergies or a cold or when you’re exercising rigorously. Breathing through your mouth helps get oxygen to your lungs a lot faster. But you don’t want to make a habit of it.
Why nose-breathing is better
When you breathe through your nose, your nose produces nitric oxide. And nitric oxide benefits your body in several ways, including…
- Making it easier for your lungs to absorb oxygen and send it throughout your body
- Relaxing your vascular smooth muscle
- Lowering your blood pressure
- Having antifungal, antiviral, antiparasitic, and antibacterial properties
- Helping your immune system
Breathing through your nose offers additional advantages as well. These include…
- Filtering and holding onto small particles in the air
- Preventing dryness in the lungs and bronchial tubes by adding moisture to the air
- Warming up cold air to your body temperature
- Relaxing your mind and body
Symptoms of mouth-breathing
People who breathe through their mouths while they sleep may not know they’re doing it. But common mouth-breathing symptoms to watch out for include the following:
- Bad breath
- Dry mouth
- Waking up feeling tired and cranky
- Brain fog
- Dark circles under the eyes
Children who breathe through their mouths can experience the same symptoms as adults plus the following:
- Enlarged tonsils
- Dry, cracked lips
- Trouble focusing at school
- Slower growth rate than their peers
- Crying more than usual at night
What causes chronic mouth-breathing?
Most of the time, the cause of chronic mouth-breathing is a blocked nasal airway. Several factors may cause the nose to become blocked:
- Congestion due to a cold, allergies, or a sinus infection
- Enlarged tonsils, adenoids, or turbinates
- Deviated septum
- Nasal polyps
- Stress and anxiety
- The size and shape of the nose and jaw
People with sleep apnea may also become accustomed to breathing through their mouths to get the oxygen they need as they sleep.
If you have any of the following conditions, you are more likely to habitually breathe through your mouth:
- Chronic stress and anxiety
- Chronic allergies
- Recurring sinus infections
- Hay fever
Consequences of mouth-breathing and treatment options
In addition to the previously mentioned risks, mouth-breathing can also lead to the following issues in adults:
- Decreased oxygen concentration in the blood
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Decreased lung function
- Worsening asthma symptoms
In children, mouth-breathing can also cause physical abnormalities and other health issues, such as…
- Narrow face and mouth
- Gummy smile
- Dental malocclusion (including an overbite and crowded teeth)
- Poor posture
- Sleep disorders
How you treat mouth-breathing depends on the cause. You can treat nasal congestion due to a cold or allergies with nasal decongestants, antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, or nasal dilators (adhesive nasal strips).
If the cause is enlarged tonsils or adenoids, surgery may be required to remove the tonsils or adenoids (this is more common in children).
Dentists might also have children get braces or an appliance designed to widen their palate and open their nasal passages.
If your mouth-breathing is due to sleep apnea, your doctor may have you use a CPAP machine to keep your airway open as you sleep.
Lastly, you can take steps to prevent yourself from mouth-breathing in the first place. You can…
- Use a saline, mist, spray, or decongestant
- Take allergy reliever medication
- Install air filters in your HVAC systems
- Engage in mindful nose-breathing during the day to develop a habit
- Practice restorative yoga
The dangers of mouth-taping
Mouth-taping is a practice spread by TikTok users as another solution for mouth-breathing. But people should be wary of this trend.
Sleep specialists warn that mouth-taping can be dangerous if you have sleep apnea. There is little evidence supporting the benefits of mouth-taping to improve sleep quality. Plus, mouth-taping can damage the soft tissue around your mouth and cause you to painfully lose facial hair when removing the tape.
Don’t take everything you see on TikTok as gospel. Anyone considering mouth-taping should consult with their healthcare provider first.
However, if you do plan on mouth-taping despite the lack of supportive evidence, don’t put the tape fully across your mouth, as if you were a hostage. Instead, put just a square of tape vertically over your lips.
If you suspect you mouth-breathe because you have sleep apnea, you should get a sleep evaluation from your doctor. If you don’t have sleep apnea but still breathe through your mouth and snore, try nasal strips, dilators, or mouth and throat exercises. Also, try sleeping on your side instead of on your back.
Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website: MeghnaDassani.com.
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