My wife, Cathy, has been plagued with allergies the last couple of years and finds herself with a stuffed nose periodically making it near impossible to breathe through her nose and turning her into an occasional mouth breather. Maybe it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but did you know that there are dental ramifications to mouth breathing? Well, it’s true.
The nose is the ideal body part for breathing. It warms, moistens, and cleanses the air as we breathe in. But sometimes we just can’t do that and have to resort to mouth breathing. Mouth breathers are more likely to experience dental problems than those who primarily use their nose for breathing. So what are some of the dental health issues mouth breathers might encounter?
- Tooth Decay: When we breathe through our mouths saliva is reduced and the mouth becomes dry. Saliva is a natural defense against cavities by reducing acid and bacteria build-up on teeth. Continued mouth breathing can lead to dry mouth (xeorstomia), needing treatment. Decay in older people is often due to dry mouth and can be quite extensive and destructive (called senile caries).
- Crooked Teeth: During normal nose breathing your mouth is closed and your tongue rests on the top of your mouth. Mouth breathers rest their tongues on the floor of the mouth. In doing so the cheek muscles relax and rest on the upper teeth. This can cause the upper jaw to narrow, resulting in crooked teeth.
- Gingivitis: Inflammation of the gums can be caused in part by improper balance of oral bacteria. Since mouth breathers tend to have dry mouths, the bacterial balance in the mouth is disturbed and the odds of developing gingivitis are increased. If mouth breathing is a problem for you it is a good idea to talk to your physician and your dentist. Depending on the cause of the mouth breathing there are different treatments that you might want to consider.
If you find yourself temporarily breathing by mouth because of a stuffed nose watch out if you use over the counter nose sprays. Your nose can become dependent on nose sprays to open up the nasal passages in as little as 3 days. My wife went through this last year and it took 5 uncomfortable weeks to overcome the dependency.