Believe it or not, breathing may be the very thing responsible for your poor health. From bad breath and tooth problems to poor sleep and even a deformed jaw, mouth breathing is a seemingly harmless habit that can have severe implications on your health.
In addition to the health problems, mouth breathing is just plain annoying. Laying in bed, listening to your partner noisily wheeze through his mouth is enough to keep anyone up at night, placing a strain on the overall relationship.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. I will take a closer look at the different ways that you can quit mouth breathing at night for good.
But first, let’s cover the basics…
What Exactly IS Mouth Breathing?
Essentially an incorrect form of respiration, mouth breathing during sleep is quite simply the act of breathing through one’s mouth rather than nose for part or all of the night.
As humans, we are naturally designed to breathe through our nose while sleeping so that the air we take in is able to pass through a variety of airways that trap bacteria, dust, and other harmful pollutants before that air enters the lungs.
When a person breathes through their mouth at night, they are forcing their body to take air directly into their lungs without passing through their specially designed filtration system. Aside from the host of health problems that this can cause in your mouth alone, mouth breathing exposes your lungs to harmful allergens and bacteria that can cause serious damage.
Why Do People Mouth Breath when they sleep?
The causes of mouth breathing during sleep usually fall into one of three categories:
1. Obstructive – An object is physically blocking your nasal passage. Example: Dried snot, a scab or something you stuck up your nose such as a bead.
2.Habitual – While you can breath through your nose just fine when thinking about it, if your mind wanders you return to breathing through your mouth; such as when you sleep. Perhaps it is a habit that has occurred since birth. Maybe you had a blocked nose that caused you to breath through your mouth and now it is fixed you find yourself doing it by habit.
3. Anatomic – You suffer from a physical deformation that prevents you from breathing properly through your nose. Example: A deviated septum or a broken nose.
In order to properly treat and solve mouth breathing during sleep, it’s crucial to figure out the cause of the problem.
The most common culprit of mouth breathing is some type of nasal obstruction or blockage. This obstruction can be structural like nasal polyps or enlarged nasal turbinates (structures found inside the nasal cavity) or it can be swollen nasal tissue from allergies or an infection. Basic nasal congestion is another form of blockage that we are probably all familiar with, but at least a stuffy nose is a fairly simple to relieve.
If you have ever suffered from allergies or had a chronic cold or congestion for prolonged periods of time, your body has likely trained itself to breathe through your mouth. The same can be said of someone who suffers from a physical deformity; their body likely trained itself to breathe irregularly through their mouth.
In these cases, even if you get your allergies under control with a hypoallergenic pillow or undergo surgery to fix a deformity, your body has already gotten in the habit of mouth breathing, making it a habitual situation.
Anatomic causes of mouth breathing can be things like a deviated septum, an over or under bite, abnormally large tonsils, or a skeletal deformity.
Commenting on the anatomic causes for mouth breathing in children, Dr. Veronique Benhamou, director of periodontology at McGill University in Montreal says:
Some kids do it out of habit. Their bite may be off, or the position of the jaw and teeth may be such that when they sleep, their lips don’t quite close.1
Whether mouth breathing is obstructive, habitual, or anatomic, figuring out the specific cause will allow for proper treatment.
Many people do not believe that mouth breathing is serious enough to warrant medical attention, however, this highly underrated condition can wreak havoc on your health if not addressed. 3
Mouth Breathing Can Cause…
It can be a common misconception that breathing through your mouth merely looks unpleasant and produces annoying bouts of snoring. In reality, mouth breathing during sleep is associated with a long list of troublesome symptoms, snoring and unattractiveness being the least serious. (Though I must say, I slept with a snorer for many years and it always felt seriously annoying.)
One of the most common side effects of mouth breathing is an excessively dry mouth. Think dry mouth is just an annoying side effect with no real cause for concern? Don’t worry I thought the same thing too. Boy, was I wrong…
The host of issues that stem from mouth breathing all begin with a chronically dry mouth and form somewhat of a domino effect from there.
When regular nasal breathing occurs, the mouth is able to produce saliva which continually washes bacteria out of the mouth. With mouth breathing, bacteria can more easily take over due to the excessively dry environment and lack of natural cleansing. This can cause cavities, gingivitis, tooth decay, or inflamed and bleeding gums which can lead to toothache. And there isn’t a whole lot in life that is more difficult than falling asleep with a toothache
Dry mouth is often also the culprit of chronic bad breath.4 Dr. Harry Hoediono, president of the Ontario Dental Association, says:
People tell me they brush their teeth constantly or they chew gum, but the bad breath is still there.5
Sadly, no amount of Listerine is going to solve this bad breath problem if you’re a perpetual mouth breather.
As if all of that isn’t bad enough, dry mouth due to mouth breathing at night can also interrupt your sleep. When your mouth or gums become too dry, it can become difficult to swallow. This will likely wake you up in the night desperately reaching for a drink.
Constantly waking up throughout the night due to excessive thirst prevents you from achieving a restful and thorough night’s sleep.
Still not convinced of the serious health risks that mouth breathing can cause?
It gets worse… People who breathe through their mouth tend to take in less air, resulting in chronic oxygen deprivation. This can have a serious impact on your daily energy, mood, and concentration.
Finally, breathing through your mouth when sleeping can actually cause malformations and skeletal deformities of the face and jaw. This is often witnessed in children who breathe through their mouth as it encourages the growth of the upper jaw instead of the lower jaw.
If you have noticed any of the multiple symptoms covered here, you might be a mouth breather. If you even so much as suspect that you are a mouth breather, I sincerely hope that you are currently on the phone with your doctor figuring out the best course of action.
Close Your Mouth: Ways to Stop Mouth Breathing at Night
As stated earlier, if you suspect that you are a mouth breather, you must first determine what the cause is before it can be corrected.
Dr. Veronique Benhamou, director of periodontology at McGill University in Montreal, says,
If the cause is huge tonsils, then removing them might be an option. If the problem is structural and a child can’t, for example, close his lips over flared front teeth, then the solution may be orthodontic treatment.6
If you are not certain whether some of the symptoms we’ve covered point to mouth breathing, a thorough dental exam will likely help shine some light on your situation.
Dr. Harry Hoediono says:
I had a mother bring a child in. She had parched gums, a dry mouth, an overbite and an obstruction of the nasal passages, a classic mouth breather. I referred her to a doctor and they sent her for surgery. They removed a nasal obstruction, and not long after, she was feeling better and doing better at school!”
Bottom line is, once you determine what is causing you to sleep with a wide-open mouth, you can better select an appropriate solution-and there are many solutions to choose from.
New York-based sleep and breathing expert Dr. Steven Park suggests first trying a saline nasal spray or Nedi Pot to assist in clearing out your nasal passages. Another popular nasal clearing technique is to inhale steam prior to bed, whether it be in a steaming shower or breathing over a cup of hot tea. Not only will these methods potentially clear out your nose, but they will help eliminate basic congestion or sinusitis as the culprit if they don’t do the trick.
Household allergens are another possible cause for blocked nasal passages. Keeping your sleeping quarters dust-free and frequently washing sheets in hot water can help cut back on bedroom allergens. And I hate to say it, but you should probably kick your furry friends out of the bedroom as well. Pet dander is a common cause of allergies and nasal congestion.
Many people, including myself, have found relief in using nasal strips such as Breathe Right or any other generic brand. These powerful little strips help to lift open your nasal passages, allowing air to more easily flow through.7 My only issue with these was that I always seemed to develop a pimple right on the bridge of my nose where I wore the strip. Perhaps a more diligent face washing routine would solve this issue.
Some people believe that regular exercise is a natural solution to training yourself to breathe through your nose. Many exercises such as yoga or Pilates focus heavily on breath work, helping to make you aware of consciously breathing through your nose.
One of the more peculiar remedies to train yourself to breathe through your nose involves taping your mouth shut. This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; placing a small piece of surgical tape vertically across the center of your mouth in order to force it closed during the night.
It is suggested to place a small amount of Vaseline on the lips to avoid a painful removal of tape in the morning. To me, this seems slightly drastic, though possible very effective in training yourself to breathe through your nose.
In the interim of trying these natural DIY remedies and taking a trip to your doctor or dentist, you can help alleviate the, often painful, dry mouth by placing a humidifier in your bedroom. This will help to up the moisture level in the air, inevitably easing some of the drying that you experience.
Dr. Benhamou also suggests rubbing a tiny amount of vitamin E oil on gums before heading to sleep in order to lock moisture in through the night. And let’s not forget the importance of drinking plenty of fluids to hydrate from the inside out.
If none of the above-mentioned home remedies have you waking up free from dry-mouth (the most obvious sign of mouth breathing), it may be time to seek professional medical advice, if you have not already. If your mouth breathing is due to a physical deformity or medical issue, various surgical options or orthodontic procedures are available.
Moral of this story is, if you wake up with a dry mouth, explore the possibility that you may be a chronic mouth breather when you sleep. And while mouth breathing sounds like a minor issue, the extensive list of health problems that can result from it prove otherwise.
Are you a mouth breather? How did you overcome mouth breathing to sleep better at night? Let me know in the comments below!