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Did you know that humans are not designed to breathe through the mouth? According to Bill Fish, a certified sleep coach and founder of sleep company Tuck while the mouth can be used for respiration, the nose is better suited for the job. Bill states that the nose “acts as a filter of sorts for any bacteria your breathing in, whereas the mouth is not filtering anything, thus you’re taking in higher quality oxygen when breathing through the nose.” But why do we find ourselves breathing with our mouth instead of the nose, especially when we are snoozing? Keep reading to find out.

Mouth Breathing May Be Bad for Your Sleep Hygiene and Overall Health

Efficient breathing ensures that you get quality sleep every night, and experts recommend breathing with your nose over the mouth for several reasons. Some of the advantages of breathing through the nose include prevention of dry mouth, increased relaxation, boosted immune system, and improved physical and cognitive performance.

The thing is, while asleep, we lose our ability to consciously keep our mouths closed, thus interfering with the normal sleep cycle. You see, when you fall asleep, most of your body muscles relax, including the jaw muscles. This makes it easy for the mouth to fall open, which encourages mouth breathing. To get the full picture, just try to nose breath with your mouth open – it feels unnatural, doesn’t it?

Side Effects of Sleeping with the Mouth Open

Since mouth breathing is rarely deliberate, most of us don’t even know we do it, until we suffer from the various side effects, including:

  • Waking up to a dry mouth
  • Open mouth snoring
  • Poor oral health over time
  • Waking up tired
  • Bad breath
  • Reduced sleep quality due to persistent snoring,
  • Sinus and nasal congestion.

Is Sleeping with the Mouth Open Bad?

It’s advisable to breathe through the nose to prevent oxygen deprivation. The nasal sinuses produce nitric acid. It helps to increase blood flow and deliver oxygen to the lungs. Air is also warmed and moistened in the nasal sinuses. When mouth breathing, you let in cold, dry air that may cause a lack of oxygen. However, not all circumstances make it bad to sleep with the mouth open. Here are few advantages of sleeping with the mouth open:

  • It helps with breathing when you’re sick – when you catch flu or cold, you may struggle with a stuffed nose, which makes breathing very difficult. Colds and flu can also give rise to tonsils and small nasal canals that may make breathing challenging. For this reason, it may be more convenient to breathe with your mouth. Asthmatics may also find it easier to breathe with the mouth during attacks.
  • Helps to reduce carbon dioxide in the system. Sometimes, we may need to breathe through the mouth due to elevated levels of CO2 in the system that needs to be flushed out by proper oxygen intake. This can happen when exercising or if you’re in a room that’s not sufficiently aired while sleeping.

Sleeping with the Mouth Open and Your Oral Health

We mentioned earlier that sleeping with your mouth open causes your mouth to dry. When saliva levels in your mouth are lower than required, it may be harmful to your dental health. Saliva is beneficial to our gums since it acts as a self-cleaning mechanism that flushes away bacteria and other germs that are present in your mouth. Loss of saliva leads to a drop in your mouth’s pH level, and this might encourage the development of plague, which damages the teeth. In severe cases, a combination of sleeping with the mouth open and other dental issues can lead to loss of teeth. Some people experience a slower teeth growth rate and even swollen tonsils. In children, sleeping with the mouth open can cause crowded teeth and waking up with swollen gums. Other reasons that make sleeping with your mouth open include:

Gum Disease

Apart from tooth decay, sleeping with the mouth open can cause gum disease, which may progress from harmless gingivitis to advanced parenthesis. This is a condition where the gums start receding due to invasive bacteria eating it away from the teeth enamel. In the worst-case scenario, this may lead to teeth loss.

Halitosis

We mentioned bad breath, also known as halitosis, as one of the side effects of sleeping with the mouth open. Halitosis is a result of changes in halitus that leads to a bad odor from your mouth. Bad breath can also be caused by loss of saliva, which is responsible for self-cleaning your mouth. If the condition is left untreated, your dental health may deteriorate to the extent of causing tooth decay, which will exacerbate your bad breath. One study associated mouth breathing with halitosis in children. Out of the 55 children who participated in the study, 50.9 percent had a score of four, which indicated strong odor. The same case could also apply to adults. ”

How to Prevent Sleeping with the Mouth Open

Your doctor may help you devise the best approach to treat and prevent mouth breathing. There could be underlying issues that force you to breathe through your mouth while sleeping. Some doctors may recommend medications like antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, and nasal decongestant medicines, or the use of strips attached to the bridge of the nose to help promote nose breathing. Others may recommend braces, retainers, or other devices that will help widen your jaw and palate, making it easier on nasal passages to circulate air. You could also try to sleep on your back, but with your head elevated in a way that encourages sufficient airflow.

All images by Shutterstock

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