Snoring and sleep apnea: why mouth breathing is not the best for your oral health
This blog is all about how our habitual breathing patterns influence our oral health. It touches on the link between orthodontic problems and breathing habits, as well as discusses snoring and sleep apnea. We’ll explain why we recommend against the use of CPAP machines for sleep apnea and introduce a more effective alternative that is better for your health and less disruptive to your bed partner. A certified sleep apnea specialist, such as our very own Dr. Hooshangui at NEESH Dental, uses the latest digital diagnostics and treatments to help you get to the bottom of your sleep apnea, get better sleep, protect your oral health, and prevent the need for future orthodontic treatments all at the same time.
If you need orthodontics, mouth breathing might be to blame.
Many people who want braces or other orthodontic treatments tend to breathe through their mouths. When people have trouble breathing through their noses due to any number of factors (some of which we discuss below) and start habitually breathing through their mouths, it can affect the alignment of their teeth and jaw leading to the need for orthodontic treatments later in life. Although not all such alignment issues are caused by mouthbreathing, there is a strong correlation we shouldn’t ignore.
How mouth breathing changes facial structure and airway
Breathing through the mouth, over time, changes the facial appearance, changes the alignment of teeth and transforms the airways. As explained by James Nestor in his book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, “Inhaling air through the mouth decreases pressure which causes the soft tissues at the back of the mouth to become loose and flex inward, creating less space and making breathing more difficult.” (Breath, by James Nestor chapter 2). Conversely, inhaling through the nose makes the airway wider and breathing easier, toning the tissues and muscles to remain open and wide naturally.
A study on mouth breathing in monkeys
Egil P. Harvold, an orthodontist and researcher conducted a series of experiments on monkeys in the 1980s from a lab in San Francisco, wherein he stuffed the noses of monkeys with silicone so they were forced to adapt to mouth breathing for 2 years. During that time, he measured various dimensions of their faces including their dental arches, chin angles, face lengths, and more, comparing them to a control group of monkeys breathing normally without obstructed noses. The results showed that the monkeys adapted in different ways, such as keeping their mouths open or adjusting the position of their jaws and tongues. The obstructed animal’s faces grew long and slack-jawed. Over time, these changes led to a different facial appearance and teeth alignment compared to monkeys with normal nasal breathing.
Why the CPAP is only a band-aid
Just as an antidepressant medication addresses symptoms of depression without curing it, the CPAP machine addresses symptoms of sleep apnea and snoring without curing it. When you stop using the CPAP machine, your sleep apnea returns. It’s a bandaid that you rely on to breathe at night for the rest of your life, without ever addressing the cause of the obstructed airway in the first place. Sleep apnea dentistry addresses the root cause of collapsing airways, which lies in the mechanics of breathing. For more on this, read Sleep Apnea and Oral Health: How Your Dentist Can Help
Adverse health effects of mouth breathing are exacerbated by the CPAP machine
Incidences of breathing difficulty and sleep apnea increase with seasonal allergies.
If you’re already a chronic mouth-breather, sleeping makes matters even worse. When we lay down with our heads on a pillow, gravity pulls the soft tissues and tongue downward, closing off the airways even more. Over time, we become conditioned to this position to the extent that snoring and sleep apnea become “normal”, albeit certainly not natural.
The adverse oral health effects of mouth breathing
Long term mouth breathing can lead to a myriad of oral issues including crowded teeth, cracked lips, cavities, gum disease and more. Who knew that how you habitually breathe could have such a strong influence on your oral health?
The issues don’t stop at the mouth
Mouth breathers are also more likely to experience digestive issues, chronic fatigue, morning headaches, sore throat, and more.
How your Saskatoon dentist can help
Many people with sleep apnea may not realize it, especially if they usually sleep alone. During your next dental exam, ask your dentist about sleep apnea screening to make sure you aren’t at risk. If you do have sleep apnea, our sleep apnea specialist can fit your for a custom mouth appliance to help keep the airway open during sleep and reduce apnea through the night. Your dentist can help make and maintain your oral appliance.