Scientists say sleeping with an open mouth is as damaging to teeth as sipping orange juice or fizzy soda before bed. If you wake up in the morning with dry lips and your throat feeling like you’ve just swallowed sand, you could be a mouth breather. Breathing through your mouth as you sleep is more than just an annoying habit for a partner sharing your bed. Mouth breathing causes some very real health concerns that are worth addressing.
Dry mouth and high pH
A study published in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation found that the pH level in a normal mouth is a neutral 7.7. A mildly acidic level would be a pH of 6.6, but some mouth breathers reached acidity levels as high as 3.6! Dry membranes and a high pH balance in the mouth makes it easy for bacteria to take hold, causing bad breath, tooth decay, and periodontal disease.
Mouth-breathing promotes the growth of the upper jaw, causing a rather large overbite and gummy smile. Children who breathe through their mouths often develop long face syndrome – which is characterized by unattractive features like flat facial features, less prominent cheekbones, long and narrow face shape, poor muscle tone, and small jaws. They may suffer from poor posture and crowded teeth. Kids who wear braces take longer to treat and are more likely to suffer relapse when they breathe with their mouths open all the time. Often, children struggle with lisps related to an underlying facial deformity and mouth-breathing. Screening for and diagnosing mouth-breathing before age 5 can prevent these abnormal changes.
Poor oxygen concentration in the bloodstream
A particularly low amount of oxygen in the blood is called hypoxemia, which causes high blood pressure, fatigue, and headaches. The journal of General Dentistry explains: “Mouth-breathing also irritates the tonsils and adenoids, so you have a double whammy where the sinuses are congested, which causes further blockage of the upper airway.”
Not only is it difficult to take in oxygen through the nose, but the lack of oxygen passing over the mucous membrane and into the sinuses inhibits nitric oxide production, which is necessary for the proper functioning of the heart and blood vessels.
People who mouth-breathe often wake multiple times a night when their oxygen supply is low. Children may be diagnosed with ADHD due to problems concentrating and learning difficulties at school. Adults may suffer from brain fog, excessive daytime sleepiness, and chronic fatigue. Breathing through your mouth can also cause the jaw and tongue to fall back, blocking the airway to cause apnea and increasing the likelihood of loud snoring. Many people do not know they have Sleep Apnea until they find out they are mouth breathers.
How dentists treat mouth breathing
Dentists can treat mouth breathing several different ways, depending on the root cause. If the cause of mouth breathing is huge tonsils, removal may be an option. Structural issues can be corrected with orthodontic treatment or surgery. Some patients use affordable oral appliances similar to sports mouth guards that open up breathing passages. Treating underlying allergies with nasal sprays or antihistamines may also improve the condition.
To reduce mouth dryness, dentists recommend treating the root cause of mouth breathing, using a humidifier at night, drinking additional fluids during the day, and rubbing a small amount of Vitamin E oil on the gums before sleep. Special treatments or coatings can be applied to the teeth and mouth to restore proper pH.
More on the adverse effects of mouth breathing on your teeth and jaw:
- Best Health Mag – Are you a mouth breather? http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/oral-health/mouth-breather/
- RDH Mag – Mouth breathing for dummies, http://www.rdhmag.com/articles/print/volume-35/issue-02/features/mouth-breathing-for-dummies.html
- Science Daily – Mouth breathing can cause major health problems, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100406125714.htm
- Daily Mail – Sleeping with your mouth open damages teeth ‘as much as a fizzy drink before bed’: Dry mouth causes acid levels to rise, eroding teeth, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3433908/Sleeping-mouth-open-damages-teeth-fizzy-drink-bed-Dry-mouth-causes-acid-levels-rise-eroding-teeth.html#ixzz4mSHKaST1
- Healthline – Mouth Breathing: Symptoms, Complications, and Treatments, http://www.healthline.com/health/mouth-breathing#overview1
- Journal General Dentistry – Mouth breathing: Adverse effects on facial growth, health, academics, and behavior, http://www.adamsdentalnj.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Effects-of-mouthbreathing-growth.pdf
- NBC News – Mouth Breathing Growss, Harmful To Your Health, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/mouth-breathing-gross-harmful-your-health-1C6437430