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Mouth Breathing - Why It’s Terrible For Your Dental And Overall Health

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Dr Teresa Li
February 2, 2024

Over the years you might have heard the insult “He’s a real mouth-breather” thrown about, which serves to infer someone’s low intelligence i.e. they don't have the smarts to have worked out / or manage to breathe through their nose. In this article, we discuss the seriousness of literal mouth breathing and emphasise that it’s actually no laughing matter…

What is mouth breathing?

Mouth breathing is when someone breathes entirely through their mouth - both inhaling and exhaling throughout the day, and most concerningly - as they sleep. 

People will often do this due to:

  • nasal congestion from an illness or nasal polyps, and/or subsequently out of habit 
  • having a deviated septum or having been born with a misshapen nose 
  • a stress response
  • having sleep apnea (mouth breathing is correlated with and a cause of).

Mouth breathing in children is also relatively common, and most times something they grow out of, which we’ve written about in our article on mouth breathing in babies piece.

Concerned you might have mouth breathing symptoms?

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Is mouth breathing bad?

Yes. 

As dentists in Port Macquarie we may suspect you’re breathing through your mouth at night (or any time) due to the following symptoms (i.e. consequences), typically observed during patient check-ups:

  • Dry mouth and cracked lips
  • Bad breath (‘halitosis’ is the technical term)
  • Tooth decay
  • Crooked teeth (if you’ve been mouth breathing since childhood your tongue, over time, can reposition your teeth)
  • Stains on teeth - due to demineralisation

The majority of these dental conditions are caused by lack of saliva production, due to the mouth not being closed for a long period of time (i.e. sleeping). Saliva production helps keep bacteria at bay by neutralising it, and effectively ‘washing away’ the germs. Without saliva, tooth cavities and gum disease (gingivitis) can form, and your tooth enamel can be eaten/eroded by the bacteria.

Illustration of the facial development of a mouth breather versus a nose breather.
If the mouth is not closed for a long period of time, there won't be enough saliva production. Saliva helps keep bacteria at bay by neutralising it, and effectively ‘washing away’ the germs. Without it, tooth cavities and gum disease can form, and tooth enamel can be eroded.

Mouth breathing = sleep stealing

The effects of mouth breathing can also extend beyond your oral health - mouth breathing can lead to poor sleep outcomes - i.e never feeling fully rested, a higher likelihood of snoring, and a higher likelihood of sleep apnea. The former can result in energy and mood depletion and disturbances, and the latter two outcomes will see you with an unhappy bed buddy (thanks to your snoring), and you with sleep apnea - oxygen deprived. None of these are good things!

Further, when you breathe through your nose, you filter out dust, bugs (ick) and pollen (thank you nasal hairs!), and you also produce nitrous oxide, which allows your lungs to take in and distribute oxygen more effectively.

How to STOP  mouth breathing

If you feel you might be mouth breathing, or your dentist suggests that you are – please speak to your GP, who will listen to your concerns, and will likely run tests to properly diagnose mouth breathing. They may then refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist, who will assess if there is a medical reason at play, and then provide a diagnosis and a treatment plan.

A word of caution: you might have seen various media outlets / or certain ‘influencers’ promoting or pushing ‘mouth breathing tape’, ‘nasal strips’ and ‘medical tape for mouth breathing’ as the “next big thing in self-care”. Before you engage in any non-prescribed practices, please always speak with your trusted health professional, first.

Medical illustration of a man snoring.
The effects of mouth breathing can also extend beyond your oral health - mouth breathing can lead to poor sleep outcomes - i.e never feeling fully rested, and a higher likelihood of snoring and sleep apnea.

We say this with love - shut your mouth (when you breathe) - for health’s sake.

To end, if your dentist identifies what they feel are mouth breathing symptoms, or similarly, suggests you speak to your GP about how to stop mouth breathing at night - please do. Follow their advice.

Your teeth, and your overall health, depend on it.

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