TikTokers looking for a dual oral health and sleep hack are taping their mouth shut at bedtime, but dental professionals and sleep specialists warn that this trend could have dangerous outcomes.
The reasoning behind mouth taping is vague, but generally revolves around the idea that keeping your mouth closed during sleep forces you to breath through your nose, resulting in calmer breathing, as well as stopping the mouth from drying out. Keeping the mouth moist then protects the teeth and results in better overall oral health.
While there is truth to the claim that breathing through your nose is preferable to mouth-breathing, Dr. Izchak Barzilay, a dental surgeon and vice-chair of the board of directors of the Royal College of Dentists of Canada, warns that taping should only be done under the careful guidance of a dentist or sleep specialist.
“The problem is if you keep your mouth shut, and let’s say you have a problem breathing through your nose but you’re trying to force yourself to learn to breathe through your nose … That’s going to be problematic,” says Barzilay.
Reasons someone might breathe through their mouth at night range from a simple habit to more serious concerns like a deviated septum, nasal polyps, sinus irritation or enlarged tonsils, explains Dr. Lisa Bentley, a dentists in Mississauga, Ont. and the president-elect of the Ontario Dental Association. These conditions may impair breathing through the nose and require the sleeper to get extra air through their mouths.
“You should consult with your family doctor who may need to refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist to determine why in fact, you’re breathing through your mouth in the first place,” says Bentley. “Determining the underlying cause, why you’re sleeping with an open mouth, is very important.”
In some very specific instances, sleep experts may ask patients to sleep with tape on their mouths to practice keeping their lips together as they sleep. However, this has to be monitored closely and uses a specific adhesive that allows the lips to part if the patient needs more air.
Nose breathing versus mouth breathing
While mouth-breathing won’t have many harmful effects for the majority of people who do it, breathing through the nose is preferable if possible (without taping your mouth shut).
As we inhale, the nose filters and warms the air before it reaches the airway, explains Dr. Abhinav Singh, a medical review expert at SleepFoundation.org and medical director at the Indiana Sleep Center. This is better for the lungs, protecting them from allergens like dust or pollen, more than if we inhale through our mouths.
Breathing through the mouth for six to eight hours each night may also dry out saliva, which is important for the health of your teeth.
“Your saliva is really important for buffering the acids that the bacteria [on the teeth] produce,” says Bentley. “ … that acid gets washed away or buffered by saliva. So if you have lost the ability to buffer that acid, then your teeth are much more susceptible to acid erosion.”
Dry mouth can also be caused by a multiple of factors outside of mouth breathing, including smoking and certain medications. A dental provider can recommend products that keep the mouth moist or prevent acid erosion even when your mouth is dry.
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