Humans are meant to breathe primarily through their noses, except in situations where it would be impossible, such as nasal congestion . Your nose does more than filter air—it can help humidify the air you breathe, warm it to the proper temperature, and even allows you to eat and drink while still being able to breathe.
Occasional mouth breathing from congestion may not significantly impact your dental health, but chronic mouth breathing can. Here’s how breathing through your mouth can negatively impact your oral health.
You May Have a Higher Risk for Tooth Decay
Mouth breathing can cause the oral cavity to dry out, which has a few impacts on teeth. First, less saliva means less of a buffer between teeth and bacteria, plaque, and acids that can cause tooth enamel damage and decay .
Saliva is essential for protecting tooth enamel. It even contains nutrients such as phosphorus and calcium that teeth need to stay strong and healthy. Since mouth breathing can result in less saliva and a drier mouth, a higher risk for tooth enamel damage, including sensitive teeth, tooth discoloration, and tooth decay, results.
Dry Mouth Can Disrupt Bacteria and Cause Bad Breath
Mouth breathing can quickly cause a dry mouth, which, as we’ve seen, can result in tooth enamel damage. However, dry mouth has another effect on the oral cavity—it can disrupt the balance of oral bacteria and lead to bad breath, a bad taste in the mouth, and a higher risk for infections .
There are billions of bacteria in the oral cavity. Some of these bacteria can cause tooth decay and gum inflammation, but others are beneficial for your smile, such as those that help fight decay and inflammation and even help digest food. When this bacteria balance is disrupted due to dry mouth from mouth breathing, inflammation, enamel damage, and bad breath can result.
Mouth Breathing May Increase Risk for Oral Infections
Breathing through your mouth can also increase your risk for oral infections because of dry mouth. Infections such as oral thrush can result from dry mouth, as can mouth sores or lesions . If you are on immunosuppressant drugs or have a compromised immune system, you may be at higher risk for oral thrush or mouth sores, especially if you breathe through your mouth.
Talk to Your Dentist About Mouth Breathing
Mouth breathing can happen for many reasons. Mouth breathing is one of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, which can also cause dry mouth in addition to a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Do you breathe through your mouth? If so, talk to your dentist about your mouth breathing or if you notice you have a dry mouth when you wake up in the morning or frequently throughout the day. While you may just need to drink more water, dry mouth and mouth breathing can be symptoms of an underlying issue that can affect both your oral health and your body, so don’t ignore this symptom!