Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Mouth Breathing Bad For You?



Short answer

Chronic mouth breathing can lead to various health issues. It can cause oral health problems like gum disease, cavities, and dental erosion. It may disrupt sleep, contributing to snoring and sleep apnea. It can also affect facial development, especially in children, leading to 'long face syndrome'. Systemically, it may cause respiratory infections, cardiovascular stress, and impact mental functions. However, with strategies like nasal hygiene, breathing practices, and myofunctional therapy, it's possible to correct mouth breathing habits.



Long answer

Consequences of Chronic Mouth Breathing on Oral Health

Chronic mouth breathing can have several adverse effects on oral health. Understanding these repercussions is essential for both prevention and the prioritization of healthy breathing habits. Here's an overview of the issues chronic mouth breathing can introduce to one's oral health:

  • Gum Disease: When you breathe through your mouth, it tends to dry out saliva. Saliva plays a critical role in oral health by not only aiding in digestion but also in protecting teeth from cavities and fighting against gum disease. Mouth breathing reduces this protective saliva layer, potentially increasing the risk of gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Increased Risk of Cavities: A dry mouth also means a higher likelihood of cavities. Saliva helps to neutralize the acids produced by bacteria in your mouth. When saliva production is decreased because of mouth breathing, these acids can cause more harm to the teeth's enamel, leading to decay.
  • Dental Erosion: Acid reflux is often associated with chronic mouth breathing. When stomach acid makes its way into the mouth, it can erode tooth enamel, leading to dental erosion and sensitivity.
  • Tooth Misalignment: Particularly in children, chronic mouth breathing can influence the growth patterns of the face and jaw. It can lead to alterations in the normal development of the oral cavity, potentially resulting in malocclusions or crooked teeth that may require orthodontic treatment.
  • Altered Facial Growth: In severe cases, especially in children, mouth breathing can change the natural development of facial bones, potentially leading to elongation of the face, a condition often referred to as "long face syndrome".
  • Mouth Odor: A dry mouth is a less hostile environment for bacteria to grow, and this can lead to halitosis, also known as bad breath.

Research supports these findings. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation emphasizes that mouth breathing can significantly alter oral and dental health, particularly highlighting its impact on gum disease and dental erosion.

It's important to note that while the listed consequences can sound concerning, they serve as a reminder of the importance of nasal breathing and oral hygiene. Regular check-ups with dental specialists can often help to address or prevent the progression of these conditions.

In the next sections, we'll explore strategies to remedy chronic mouth breathing and to mitigate its impact on oral health. Remember, understanding the consequences is the first step towards healthier breathing habits and, by extension, a healthier, happier smile.

The Link Between Mouth Breathing and Sleep Disturbances

Mouth breathing during sleep can significantly impact the quality and pattern of rest we receive, leading to various sleep disturbances. While our bodies are designed to primarily breathe through the nose, certain conditions can result in breathing through the mouth, which may not always be benign with respect to our sleep patterns. Let's delve into how this shift from nasal to oral respiration can influence our slumber.

Impact on Sleep Architecture: When we breathe through our mouths during sleep, it can disrupt the natural stages of sleep, also known as sleep architecture. Studies have found that mouth breathing can lead to lighter sleep and reduce the amount of time spent in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which is critical for memory consolidation and mood regulation. This alteration in sleep stages can result in feeling less rested upon waking.

Oxygen Saturation: Unlike nasal breathing, which helps regulate the amount of air intake and maintains adequate oxygen levels, mouth breathing during sleep can lead to decreased oxygen saturation in the blood. This drop in oxygen can result in sleep disturbances like frequent awakenings or a sensation of choking, which can interrupt the sleep cycle.

Relationship with Sleep Apnea: Mouth breathing at night is often associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where the airway becomes blocked, leading to pauses in breathing. These interruptions not only affect sleep quality but also have long-term health implications such as increased risk of cardiovascular disease, as reported by The American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Dry Mouth and Discomfort: Sleeping with the mouth open dries out the oral cavity since the constant airflow isn't filtered or humidified like it is when breathing through the nose. This dryness can lead to discomfort, a sore throat in the morning, and even predispose individuals to dental health issues, such as cavities and gum disease, because of reduced saliva production during the night.

Snoring: Mouth breathing is a common contributor to snoring. The turbulent airflow created by breathing through the mouth rather than the nose can cause the tissues in the throat to vibrate more intensely, leading to snoring. This not only affects the individual's quality of sleep but can also disturb the sleep of a partner or roommate.

Behavioral and Cognitive Effects: Chronic mouth breathing during sleep can have behavioral and cognitive consequences, especially in children. According to research published in the journal "Sleep Medicine," children who are habitual mouth-breathers often display problems with attention, irritability, and performance in school compared to their nose-breathing peers.

Understanding the link between mouth breathing and sleep disturbances is crucial in addressing the root causes of poor sleep quality. If you find yourself frequently waking up with a dry mouth or experiencing unrefreshing sleep, it may be worthwhile to consult a healthcare professional to explore the possibility of mouth breathing and consider interventions such as myofunctional therapy or devices that promote nasal breathing during sleep.

Effects of Mouth Breathing on Facial Development

The practice of breathing through the mouth rather than the nose can have a far-reaching impact on one's physical appearance, particularly concerning facial development. This is especially true in children, whose bones and facial structures are still developing. Chronic mouth breathing can lead to a condition known as 'long face syndrome' or 'adenoid facies,' characterized by specific facial and dental abnormalities. Let's delve into how mouth breathing potentially influences facial structure:

  • Altered Facial Growth: Habitual mouth breathing may disrupt the normal growth trajectory of facial bones, promoting a longer, narrower face shape.
  • Abnormal Jaw Development: The position of the jaw can become affected by mouth breathing, often leading to an altered bite and malocclusions such as overbite or underbite.
  • Dental Health Issues: Teeth alignment problems like crowding or the emergence of an open bite where teeth don't properly meet can be more common in mouth breathers.
  • Improper Tongue Position: Because the tongue isn't resting in the proper position during mouth breathing, it doesn't support the upper jaw's normal development, potentially leading to a high, narrow palate.

As the mouth stays open to facilitate breathing, the muscles in the face and mouth may not develop correctly, influencing the overall facial appearance. The cheeks can appear less prominent, and the facial muscles may seem lax due to the underuse of certain muscle groups necessary for proper nasal breathing.

Scientific research supports these concerns. A study in the journal Pediatrics found that children who breathe through their mouths because of nasal obstruction often display a characteristic facial appearance with features including mouth open at rest, a narrowed upper dental arch, and a short upper lip 1. Another study published in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation notes that this way of breathing can lead to changes in head posture to keep the airway open, which can also affect facial development over time 2.

It's crucial to be aware of these potential effects, particularly for parents who can help their children develop healthier breathing habits. If there are signs of chronic mouth breathing, consulting a pediatrician or a specialist, such as an otolaryngologist (ENT doctor), can determine if there is an underlying cause like enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Speech therapists and orthodontists may also play a role in guiding the facial development back onto a normal path with specific exercises and treatments designed to promote nasal breathing and proper oral posture.

While the facial effects of mouth breathing can be significant, they are often no match for the inherent resilience of the human body. Children may particularly benefit from early intervention. Addressing and correcting mouth breathing can lead to positive changes, even reversing some of its effects, leading to not only aesthetic improvements but also to better overall physical and dental health.

1 Harari, D., Redlich, M., Miri, S., Hamud, T., & Gross, M. (2010). The effect of mouth breathing versus nasal breathing on dentofacial and craniofacial development in orthodontic patients. Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications.

2 Jefferson, Y. (2010). Mouth Breathing: Adverse Effects on Facial Growth, Health, Academics, and Behavior. Journal of General Orthodontics.

Mouth Breathing and Systemic Health Implications

Mouth breathing isn't simply a breathing habit; it can be indicative of underlying health concerns and can lead to systemic health implications. Breathing is fundamental, and the route it takes—whether through the mouth or the nose—can influence overall well-being.

Neglect of Natural Filters: First and foremost, the nose is equipped with filters made of tiny hairs called cilia that trap particulates and prevent them from entering the lungs. Mouth breathing bypasses these natural filters, increasing the risk of inhaling pollutants and allergens, which can contribute to respiratory issues.

Oxygen Exchange Efficiency: Nasal breathing enhances the efficiency of oxygen exchange in the lungs. It encourages proper levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, vital for releasing oxygen from hemoglobin. Mouth breathing can alter this balance, potentially leading to symptoms of hyperventilation and reduced tissue oxygenation.

Implications for Oral Health: Saliva plays an essential role in oral health, helping to cleanse the mouth and protect teeth from decay. Mouth breathers tend to have a drier mouth, which can increase the risk of dental health problems, including gum disease and cavities. There's also an increased chance of developing halitosis, or bad breath.

The Impact on Sleep: Breathing through the mouth during sleep, often associated with snoring, can disturb the sleep cycle. It is also a contributing factor for obstructive sleep apnea, a condition characterized by pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep. This can lead to fragmented sleep and subsequent daytime sleepiness, impacting cognitive function and the immune system.

Developmental Concerns: In children, prolonged mouth breathing can alter facial development. It can lead to a longer, narrower face and palate, an issue known as "adenoid facies." This can have future implications for dental health, with potential increases in orthodontic problems.

Cardiovascular Health: Over the long-term, chronic mouth breathing may contribute to cardiovascular stress. Research has suggested that it can elevate blood pressure and heart rate, indicating an increase in stress response, which may contribute to hypertension and other cardiovascular issues over time.

To better understand the full spectrum of systemic health implications linked to mouth breathing, healthcare professionals and researchers often look into the following areas:

  • Respiratory infections and complications
  • Detrimental effects on pH balance and digestion
  • Behavioral changes and potential impact on stress levels
  • Long-term effects on metabolic rate and energy levels

The intricate connection between breathing patterns and systemic health is an area of ongoing research. Studies such as "Mouth breathing: Adverse effects on facial growth, health, academics, and behavior" published in the General Dentistry Journal help to shed light on the various ways mouth breathing can affect health beyond just the respiratory system.

For anyone concerned about the impact of mouth breathing on their health, or the health of a child, consulting with a healthcare provider is recommended. Interventions may include working with an otolaryngologist (an ENT doctor), a dentist, or a specialized breathing therapist. They can offer tailored advice and treatments, such as myofunctional therapy, to encourage nasal breathing and address the health implications that come with mouth breathing.

Strategies for Correcting Mouth Breathing Habits

Adopting the habit of nasal breathing can feel like an uphill battle for chronic mouth breathers, but it's a journey worth embarking on for your overall health and well-being. Here are some strategic steps you can take to make the transition smoother:

  • Nasal Hygiene: Begin by maintaining clear nasal passages. Using saline sprays or rinses can help you keep your nose free from obstructions, making it easier to breathe through.
  • Conscious Breathing Practices: Set aside time each day for breathing exercises that encourage nasal breathing, such as diaphragmatic breathing. Even a few minutes can make a difference.
  • Myofunctional Therapy: Consult with a myofunctional therapist. These specialists can provide exercises that strengthen the orofacial muscles and promote proper tongue position, which in turn supports nasal breathing.
  • Breathe Right Strips: Consider using nasal strips at night. These can help to physically open up the nasal passages, making it easier to keep the habit of nasal breathing as you sleep.
  • Mindfulness and Cueing: Use physical cues to remind yourself to breathe through your nose. For instance, put a small note on your computer or use a habit-tracking app to prompt regular check-ins with your breathing style.
  • Yoga & Meditation: Engaging in activities that traditionally emphasize breath control, such as yoga and meditation, can naturally coach you into better breathing habits.
  • Habitual Checks: Make it a point to regularly observe your breathing throughout the day. If you find yourself mouth breathing, gently close your mouth and switch to nasal breathing.

Remember that changing a habit is a process that requires patience and perseverance. Acknowledge your progress, no matter how small, and be consistent with your practices. Over time, these strategies can support the development of healthier breathing habits, enhancing both your physical and mental health.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, chronic mouth breathing can contribute to cardiovascular stress, potentially elevating both blood pressure and heart rate. This increase in stress response may contribute to hypertension and other cardiovascular issues over time.

Yes, chronic mouth breathing in children can have behavioral and cognitive consequences. Research indicates that habitual mouth breathers may display problems such as attention deficits, irritability, and decreased school performance compared to their nose-breathing peers.

Beyond oral health, mouth breathing can result in systemic issues such as respiratory infections, adverse effects on digestion and pH balance, increased stress levels, and potentially a long-term impact on metabolic rate and energy levels.

'Long face syndrome' is a condition characterized by elongation of the face, often accompanied by dental and facial abnormalities. It's particularly seen in children who are chronic mouth breathers, as the habit can disrupt normal facial development and growth patterns.

Ask a question about Mouth Breathing and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • dry mouth
  • sore throat
  • snoring
  • sleep disturbances
  • reduced rem sleep
  • frequent awakenings
  • daytime sleepiness
  • decreased oxygen saturation
  • higher blood pressure

Possible long-term side effects

  • gum disease
  • cavities
  • dental erosion
  • tooth misalignment
  • altered facial growth
  • respiratory infections
  • cardiovascular stress
  • behavioral and cognitive effects

Healthier alternatives

  • nasal hygiene
  • conscious breathing practices
  • myofunctional therapy
  • breathe right strips
  • mindfulness and cueing
  • yoga and meditation
  • habitual checks

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-12-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-12-2024

Random Page

Check These Out!