Is Sleeping With Your Mouth Open Bad for Your Teeth?

Boy Sleeping With Mouth Open

It's normal to have a dry mouth sometimes, but if your mouth often feels dry when you wake up, you may be breathing through your mouth during the night. Since mouth breathing is linked to various dental problems, this unconscious habit may hamper your oral health.

Common Causes of Sleeping With Your Mouth Open

People with chronic nasal congestion may breathe through their mouths, especially while they're sleeping. Allergies, such as hay fever, are the most common cause of chronic congestion in kids, reports the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Of course, allergies can affect adults, too.

As the Mayo Clinic explains, a deviated septum may also block airflow through the nose. The septum is the thin wall of tissue that separates your nostrils. When this wall is off-center, one or both nostrils can be blocked, which makes it hard to breathe through the nose and results in mouth breathing.

Many other conditions can cause chronic stuffiness and mouth breathing, as Nationwide Children's Hospital notes. Some of these conditions include inflamed nasal tissues or tumors inside the nose.

Finally, sleep apnea can also cause mouth breathing, as the American Sleep Apnea Association explains. People with this condition stop breathing many times during the night, and when their oxygen levels drop, they may gulp in air. These frequent apnea episodes can encourage a mouth-breathing habit.

Dental Problems Associated With Mouth Breathing

Mouth breathing can leave your mouth feeling uncomfortably dry, but it can also cause more serious dental complications.

One of these possible complications is tooth decay, as a study published in BioMed Research International (BRI) explains. During this study, researchers observed a group of people who breathed through their mouth and a group of people who breathed through their nose. The group that breathed through their mouth accumulated more plaque on their teeth. They were also much more likely to have large colonies of Streptococcus mutans, a type of bacteria that's associated with tooth decay.

Chronic mouth breathing may also affect the gums, as the BRI study reports. When you breathe through your mouth, air flows across your oral tissues. The surfaces of these tissues can get dried out, which may lead to inflammation or irritation of the gum tissue.

Mouth breathing may also affect the alignment of your teeth. A study published in ACTA Otorhinolaryngologica Italica reported a correlation between mouth breathing in children and malocclusion. As the National Institutes of Health describes, malocclusion is the misalignment of the upper and lower teeth. Because of mouth breathing, children may develop openbite, crossbite or overjet, where the upper teeth extend out noticeably over the lower ones.

Treatments for Mouth Breathing

Mouth breathing treatment will vary depending on the underlying reason why you're sleeping with your mouth open. If allergies are the culprit, the ACAAI notes that avoiding exposure to allergens is crucial. Taking antihistamines may be a treatment option, though you should consult your doctor first. Alternately, if a tumor or other issue is the cause, your doctor may recommend medications or surgery, as Nationwide Children's Hospital notes. To find out why you're sleeping with your mouth open, and to learn more about appropriate treatment options, talk to your doctor or dentist.

Treating mouth breathing is especially important for children. Early intervention can help prevent malocclusion from developing, as the ACTA Otorhinolaryngologica Italica study notes. If malocclusion has already developed, dentists may recommend orthodontic treatment, such as braces, to realign the teeth.

Regular dental cleanings may help control some of the problems caused by mouth breathing, according to the BRI study. Getting a professional cleaning at least once every six months may help to keep plaque accumulation under control. In between dental appointments, remember to brush twice a day and floss once a day.

Sleeping with your mouth open can leave your mouth feeling dry and uncomfortable, and worse, it can put you at risk of tooth decay and other dental problems. If you think you may sleep with your mouth open, talk to your doctor or dentist.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tobacco's greatest threat to your health may be its association with oral cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that:

  • About 90 percent of people with mouth cancer and some types of throat cancer have used tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases as people smoke or chew more often or for a longer time.

  • Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers.

  • About 37 percent of patients who continue to smoke after cancer treatment will develop second cancers of the mouth, throat or larynx. While only 6 percent of people who quit smoking will develop these secondary cancers.

  • Smokeless tobacco has been linked to cancers of the cheek, gums and inner surface of the lips. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of these cancers by nearly 50 times.7