Mouth breathing is common, but did you know that it not only affects your dental health, but also your physical health and even your sleep? If you snore or wake up with a dry mouth it may be a result of mouth breathing. If you suffer from daytime sleepiness or have the desire to nap everyday, you may be suffering from sleep disorder breathing. This may be associated with mouth breathing day or night can cause your symptoms. People who breathe through their mouth while sleeping may also complain that they wake up with a headache, or even jaw pain. That’s because these people often clench and grind their teeth. Your sleep patterns and history are a window to help diagnose this common problem.
A Proper Diagnosis
As dentists, we are specialists in looking at teeth, tongues and all structures in the oral cavity. People who breathe with their mouths instead of their nose, often have noticeable problems with their oral health. When the mouth is dry, it contributes to additional bacteria build-up on the teeth, leading to more cavities. It also deteriorates gum health. This is characterized by inflammation or bleeding of the gums and eventually leads to early gum disease. Additionally, dentists often see wear and breakdown on the teeth from clenching or grinding as a result of mouth breathing. We even find that in those individuals who suffer with acid reflux, mouth breathing can be a contributing factor. One’s overall oral health can be greatly improved by learning to breathe through the nose.
A small or narrow airway is what often contributes to mouth breathing. It may also be a result of a narrow palate that does not have enough space on the roof of the mouth for proper tongue positioning. Therefore, the airway is narrowed as the tongue falls back into the throat. Dentists often diagnose symptoms of a narrow airway in their patients many years before someone may need or seek medical care. When we notice signs of mouth breathing, we like to ask our patients - What does a normal night of sleep look like? Are you early to bed? Do you fall asleep easily? How often are you getting up at night?
Your dentist will carefully examine your mouth and throat. Sometimes we are unable to see the back of the throat because the airway is too small, or the tongue is too large, causing obstruction of breathing when you are sleeping. It is important to get the proper diagnosis, as sleep problems can also be a result of a medical condition called sleep apnea. Sleep Apnea is characterized by periods of sleep where breathing is irregular or there are pauses in breathing. This condition must be diagnosed by a medical doctor. Sometimes, we may suggest that you get a sleep study. After a patient meets with a sleep specialist, we can assess if there are ways that we might be able to improve the airway. This is a collaboration with your primary care physicians, Ear Nose and Throat specialists and other medical providers to find the best solution for you.
The Importance of Good Sleep
Breathing through the nose is one habit that contributes to good sleep, and good sleep is very important. Studies have shown that heart health and mental health are both improved with healthy sleep patterns. REM sleep, the deep sleep when the body and brain are repairing themselves, is critically important. In fact, REM sleep is the time when you are storing short and long-term memories, which leads to enhanced memory and a reduction in anxiety and depression.
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