Have you ever watched a newborn baby breathe? They instinctively breathe out of their noses – a survival mechanism that allows them to nurse and breathe at the same time. But, us adults could take a hint from this natural behavior. 

Turns out that nasal breathing is critical for long term systemic health. It ensures that you’re getting a healthy amount of oxygen delivered to your tissues (by releasing nitric oxide), filtering warm air, breathing slower and deeper, and improving your circulation. All of these factors are hugely important in a solid night’s sleep but also for optimal oral health. So let’s dive into the well-studied correlation between mouth breathing and poor dental hygiene. 

Why Mouth Breathing Can Be Detrimental

When your mouth is in an open position all night, your oral tissues (gums, tongue, etc) get really dried out and your saliva production plummets. Now this is problematic because saliva is responsible for neutralizing acid in your mouth that can cause issues and it helps to flush out excessive or harmful bacteria (1). Without saliva to protect your mouth, you are at a much higher risk of things like tooth decay and periodontal disease. Also, mouth breathing tends to lower the pH of your mouth which can lead to heightened tooth sensitivity and eroded enamel (2). 

How to Start Nasal Breathing

All you mouth breathers out there, don’t fret. We compiled a list of juicy tips straight from Dr. Staci Whitman, a board-certified dentist who takes a whole-body, holistic, and functional approach to oral care. 

  • Rinse your sinuses. Think back to a time when you were SO congested that you physically couldn’t breathe out of your nose. You probably woke up with a gross tasting dry mouth and sore throat, right? Being stuffed up makes it nearly impossible to breathe out of your nose, so if you have any level of allergies, sickness or nasal irritation, you may want to try flushing out your nasal passageways with an irrigation kit or Neti pot. This is an incredible hack for kids who are having trouble breathing out of their noses. 
  • Try essential oil sticks. Ever used a menthol rub when you’re sick? Invigorating, volatile-oil rich plants like peppermint and eucalyptus are notoriously good at waking up your senses and opening up your sinuses. Brands like BoomBoom make convenient little nasal sticks infused with essential oils and menthol that you can use to encourage nasal breathing. Plus, they’re really easy to use on the go.
  • Use saline sprays. Nasal sprays that contain hypertonic solutions can reduce inflammation in your passageways to make breathing through your nose easier. Similar to sinus rinses, these can wash away debris and bacteria while also hydrating your tissues. 
  • Pay attention to food triggers. Do certain foods stuff you up? Sadly, for many of us, eating dairy (and gluten in some instances) can cause a bit of an allergic reaction that manifests as inflammation and increased mucus production. If you have a hunch that this might be the case for you, it may not be a bad idea to try removing the culprits for a few weeks to see if you notice any improvement in your airways. 
  • Consider an air filter. Common household allergens like dust and pet dander could be at the root of your nasal congestion or inflammation. Therefore, simply implementing an air filter (we love Air Doctor) in your home can help to purify your air and remove any sneaky allergy offenders. 
  • Tape your mouth shut. Mouth tape is all the rage these days, so there are fortunately tons of different (and comfortable!) options online. The idea here is that if you physically tape your mouth shut while you’re sleeping, you are forcing yourself to breathe out of your nose. The reality is, most of us have no trouble intentionally breathing out of our noses during the day but just aren’t able to control what our facial muscles are doing when we’re sleeping. Just make sure that you NEVER use mouth tape if you have trouble breathing out of your nose (i.e. a structural issue like a deviated septum) or if you are sick. 

To learn more about functional dentistry and how whole-body health begins in the mouth, check out our podcast episode with Dr. Staci Whitman on What’s the Juice.

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