Mouth breathing during sleep

A dental surgeon explains the downsides of mouth breathing in your sleep

Dr Jay Fensterstock explains how mouth breathing can have a serious impact on your health, and discusses ways to tackle the problem.

Mouth breathing has a bad connotation, whether it occurs during sleep or during waking hours. However subconscious the habit, it is mocked, derided, and associated with unattractiveness and social ineptitude.

What causes mouth breathing?

There are many possible causes of mouth breathing. They include congenital malformation of the jaw, birth trauma, an abnormal bite, a deviated septum, allergies, chronic respiratory infections, nasal polyps, and swollen tonsils and adenoids. Less frequently, mouth breathing is the result of taking certain medications (xerostomia) or receiving chemotherapy.

Why is it better to breathe through your nose when you sleep?

When we breathe normally through the nose, air is warmed and moistened as it passes through the nasal passages. Moreover, the fine hairs in the nostrils, known as cilia, filter out dust and pathogens, so when we breathe through our noses, we are inhaling cleaner, moister, warmer air.

When we breathe through our mouths, however, we are taking in cold, dry air from which germs and dust particles haven’t been removed.

What are the symptoms of mouth breathing during sleep?

In recent years, both patients and doctors have become increasingly aware of sleep apnea, a condition characterized by mouth breathing and loud snoring during which the patient stops breathing many times every night. There are, however, other unpleasant and serious disorders may develop as a result of mouth breathing, including:

  • Excessively dry mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Poor bite
  • Inflamed or bleeding gums
  • Yellow teeth because of decreased saliva in the mouth to wash acid away
  • More cavities in the teeth (because dry membranes are more vulnerable to bacterial invasion)
  • Permanent skeletal deformities of the jaw, resulting in facial deformity

Most people are unaware of the possible skeletal deformities that can result from mouth breathing, but such deformities are all too real.

Mouth breathing causes an overgrowth of the upper jaw, resulting in an extreme overbite and a smile in which the gums are overly visible. This disorder most commonly develops in childhood.

Affected children have elongated faces (“long face syndrome“) and, as noted in the journal General Dentistry, may suffer symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a result of poor sleep quality and lack of sufficient oxygen.

Can mouth breathing be corrected through treatment?

Yes! If the condition is caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids, or by nasal or sinus polyps, surgery will likely solve the problem. In many cases, however, orthodontic intervention is necessary. If a skilled orthodontist evaluates and treats the situation early enough, many serious problems, including facial malformation and difficulties with inattention, can be avoided.


  1. Very nice article on bad breath, its causes and effects. Tonsils and nasal congestion leads to mouth breathing. Certain medications can also cause mouth breathing.

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