You use an electric toothbrush. You're actually good about flossing. Heck, you drink your wine through a straw. When it comes to your teeth, you're pretty much killing it, but some less-than-stellar dental checkups are leaving you scratching your head. If you’re a mouth breather we may have the secret to that oh-so-elusive dental hygiene.
What causes mouth breathing?
Let's be clear: mouth breathing isn't all bad. Sometimes it is necessary, it just shouldn’t be the norm. The human body is pretty resilient: when there's something deficient in one area, we’re built to compensate. That’s why we have two lungs, two kidneys, etc. If there’s a problem with one, we have a biological backup ready to roll.
You might breathe through your mouth briefly when you’re sprinting to catch the subway or muddling through a cold. In the moment you can’t get quite enough air through your nose, so you let your mouth take on that burden for a bit. That’s fine, if you go right back to nose breathing when it’s all over.
But if mouth breathing is your constant go-to (quick check-in: you should probably be breathing through your nose right now) you may be a chronic mouth breather, and that’s not ideal. This is most likely to happen if your nose is “permanently stuffy” thanks to a deviated septum, nasal valve collapse, or another anatomical nasal obstruction. In other words, a structural blockage in the nose may be limiting airflow, leading to a natural preference for mouth breathing. It just feels easier. The danger is this can become a habit with serious consequences, and one that’s hard to nix.
So why’s chronic mouth breathing so bad?
Does it cause bad breath?
You do a lot to keep your mouth minty fresh, so it can be frustrating and embarrassing if you're plagued by bad breath. You may find that you wake up each morning with a bad taste in your mouth or that your throat is so dry you can’t even speak. If your mouth is hanging open all night, it's liable to dry out because you're not swallowing and keeping things moist (sorry) like you do during the day. This enables the bacteria and dead cells that cause bad breath to flourish.
Don’t be an enabler! The mouth just isn’t optimized for breathing. It has some higher priorities, namely eating. And talking to humans, if that’s still a thing in 2020. Nasal breathing is way less dehydrating, and our nose hairs and mucus (double sorry) act as natural filters. The nose is designed to let harsh outside air into our bodies, but the mouth just can’t handle it and gets stinky. Say ‘hell no’ to halitosis and cultivate a healthy nose breathing habit!
Does it cause tooth decay?
You’ve been lectured since you were a toddler on the role diet and good brushing habits play to dental health. You know how to be good to your teeth. But if you sleep with your mouth open, this work is being undone right under your nose. Plaque and food particles aren't getting swept away by your saliva. The cold, dry, unfiltered air passing in and out of the mouth is irritating. For the same reason it causes bad breath, CMB can lead to tooth decay, gum recession, and periodontal disease or gingivitis. This causes puffy, swollen, and bloody gums (triple sorry) that are prone to receding and absolutely leads to tooth loss.
Can it change my face shape?
Weird guess, but actually yes. Mouth breathing actually affects how your jaw develops. When you breathe through your nose, your tongue naturally sits up against the roof of your mouth, blocking it off and keeping air moving in and out through your nose. But in order to accommodate mouth breathing, your tongue needs to sit flat against the bottom. Your face will actually develop to make that tongue position - and therefore route of airflow - easier, locking in that preference long-term.
This is why your friendly neighborhood dental hygienist can identify you as a mouth breather straight away. Chronic mouth breathing in the formative years can lead to crooked teeth, a long face and a weak chin. It’s known as “long face syndrome,” and no, that’s not a joke.
The mouth breathing habit can still be broken with some effort, but it’s best never to start.
Alright enough, I’m convinced. How do I stop mouth breathing?
First, get to the root (canal) of the problem (sincere apologies). Why are you mouth breathing?
If you suffer from an anatomical nasal obstruction, one option is surgery. An ENT surgeon or Facial Plastic Surgeon may perform a septoplasty or functional rhinoplasty to open and support your nose so it can work the way it’s meant to. There are pros and cons, as you’ll read in other posts.
If the problem is nasal congestion or inflammation, your options are typically allergy medication, nasal sprays, or home remedies like saline rinses. Again, pros and cons.
With the root cause addressed, there’s still a critical mental component - you need to cultivate a nose breathing habit. A newfound ability to breathe through the nose isn’t enough in itself to convert you into a nose breather. It’ll take work, but it’s well worth it.
That said, even if you are making a conscious effort during the day, you may continue to mouth breathe when you’re unconscious. Er, sleeping. One emerging trend is mouth taping, which is exactly what is sounds like. The basic idea is to make mouth breathing more difficult to create an unconscious preference for nasal breathing at night.
But for that to work you need to know you can rely on your nose! A solution more and more people are turning to is nasal dilators, which are small wearable devices that keep your nostrils propped open to maximize airflow. These traditionally have been fabric strips that stick to the outside of the nose or cones inserted into the nostrils.
There are definite drawbacks to each, which is why we humbly recommend Hale-Aid, our own proprietary design. In clinical studies, Hale-Aid is proving far more effective in improving nasal breathing that existing products, and it’s completely discreet so you can rely on it to boost your nasal breathing throughout the day, at night, and during exercise.
Don’t be a mouth breather, and you too can enjoy a bright and fresh smile.