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Is Nighttime Mouth Breathing Affecting Your Health?

Our bodies don’t have off buttons, which means a lot can happen while we sleep. Although you may not remember it in the morning, you could feel the effects of your unconscious activity. Mouth breathing is one of those things you may not realize you’re doing. But according to Banner sleep experts, there could be more serious symptoms than just dry mouth if you don’t do something to change your breathing.

Mouth breathing, nose breathing. What’s the difference?

There’s more to your nose than you may think. Nose breathing increases your oxygen uptake and improves circulation. It filters the air you breath, helping to prevent pollen, dust and allergens from getting all the way to your lungs. Your nose also helps warm and humidify the air as it enters your body.

More than a mouth issue

Joyce Lee-Iannotti, MD, is a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist with Banner Brain & Spine. She shared a recent study which associates nighttime mouth breathing with serious conditions found throughout the body. “Everything in our body is interconnected!” Dr. Lee-Iannotti exclaimed.

Long term mouth breathing can lead to a myriad of oral issues including crowded teeth, cracked lips, caries (or cavities), tooth decay, gum disease and more. But the issues don’t stop at the mouth. Mouth breathers are also more likely to experience digestive issues, chronic fatigue, morning headaches and sore throat.

Dry mouth is more than just morning breath, it is a key cause of inflammation. When areas that are normally wet, like the mouth and throat, are dry for hours every night, prolonged inflammation can lead to oral diseases. Bad breath is one symptom of gum disease, but it’s far from the most dangerous. In fact, evidence shows that inflammation caused by oral disease can increase risk of heart disease. Other conditions related to chronic, nighttime mouth breathing, such as sleep apnea, can also put undue stress on your heart.

What causes mouth breathing?

Knowing the dangers of mouth breathing isn’t enough. Once you fall asleep, your body will breathe however it likes. Identifying why you are breathing through your mouth is the only way to fix the problem. Dr. Beth Hamann practices dental sleep medicine in Phoenix, AZ and is a sleep fellowship faculty member at the UA College of Medicine at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. Dr. Hamann provided a few common causes behind mouth breathing:

  • Mouth breathing can be attributed to partially or fully blocked nasal passages. This can be due to structural issues such as deviated nasal septum, nasal polyps, and enlarged tonsils, turbinates and adenoids.
  • Other risk factors of a blocked nose include nasal congestion due to colds, allergies, asthma and sinus infections, and size and shape of nose and jaws.
  • Mouth breathing is often associated with obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder caused by blockage of the upper airway while sleeping.

Decrease your risks

Snoring and nighttime mouth breathing are seen more as an inconvenience than a risk by most people. The noise may bother a partner, but life goes on and the issue often goes unaddressed. Understanding the danger of oral inflammation, Dr. Hamann also provided helpful tips to avoid the causes she listed. First and foremost, she recommended a consultation with an ear, nose and throat expert and/or allergy doctor to determine if the cause of your mouth breathing is due to nasal blockage, and if the nasal obstruction can be corrected.

Dr. Hamann also offered at-home ideas to supplement your search for a solution.

  • Over-the-counter nasal sprays or washes to clean nasal passages
  • Nasal cones or strips to help keep passages open
  • Regular nasal breathing exercises during the day
  • Stress reduction which helps respiration
  • Avoidance of triggers (such as pollen)
  • Avoidance of alcohol, smoking and second-hand smoke
  • Practice side sleeping and sleep with your upper body elevated

Sleep should be a relaxing time, for your mind and body. With a few adjustments to your routine, you could drastically improve your sleep, wake up invigorated and even improve your overall health. For more help with sleep related issues, talk to your provider or a Banner Health specialist

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