Mouth Taping: What Is It, and Is It Actually Worth It?
We wondered why some people are taping their mouths shut at night, and whether mouth breathing is really all that bad for you.
As more and more people have learned about the benefits of nasal breathing, the trend of mouth taping has taken off, and it’s not just for bio-hackers and those susceptible to wellness fads. Driven by social media, this health trend has resulted in many people—mainly TikTok users—taping their mouths shut at night (yes, really) to stop them from breathing through their mouths.
While many online health hacks are baseless, this one isn’t quite as bizarre, dangerous or ill-advised as it may sound. The importance of breathing through your nose at night shouldn’t be discounted, as anyone with sleep apnea or a snoring issue (or who shares a bed with someone who struggles with these issues!) might already know. That’s because nasal breathing provides a number of health benefits, while mouth breathing is associated with a list of potential problems.
Why breathing out of your nose is better than mouth-breathing
Nasal breathing allows an individual to breathe more slowly and effectively. The nose is designed to filter viruses, bacteria, debris and allergens, says Sabrina Magid-Katz, a New York-based dentist who specializes in sleep dentistry and related sleep disorders. “People are finally starting to think about what some ancient cultures have always known—that breathing in and out through the nose is healthier,” says Magid-Katz, referencing the nasal breathing exercises taught in yoga and Tai Chi classes.
The nose humidifies the air we breathe, and also increases oxygen to the bloodstream, improves lung function, and decreases stress on the body. The body’s cells are able to get the oxygen they need more efficiently from the bloodstream, allowing the body to function optimally, the muscles to recover faster and the heart to work less hard. “Who wouldn’t want less stress and inflammation, and more stamina, energy and mental function?” she says.
On the other hand, mouth breathing causes dry mouth, according to Brian Rotenberg, a head and neck surgeon and a professor of Otolaryngology at Western University in London, Ont. This is because the mouth isn’t capable of humidifying air in the same way as the nose. Saliva typically washes bacteria from the mouth when it’s closed, but it can more easily survive and cause issues when the mouth is open and dry—potentially leading to bad breath, gum disease and cavities, he says.
Breathing dry air through the mouth can also cause inflammation of the airway and further block it, says Magid-Katz. This creates an airway that is more collapsible, which can lead to Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) — a medical condition in which someone stops breathing while they’re sleeping, interrupting their sleep cycle and often decreasing the oxygen in their blood. This condition is associated with other medical conditions including high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes, she says, as well as chronic sleep deprivation or a sense of never feeling truly rested.
What causes mouth breathing?
There are a few different reasons why an individual might be a mouth breather, Magid-Katz says. Some people breathe through their mouth because their nasal passage is blocked as a result of allergies, and others do so due to a structural problem, such as a deviated septum. Mouth breathing often starts when we’re kids, she says, preventing muscular habits and dental arches from growing to properly support the nasal passage.
Enlarged tonsils and adenoids—as well as what’s called “soft tissue trauma,” often caused by snoring— can also block the airway, which only further encourages mouth breathing and, in turn, creates a vicious cycle of more trauma and enlargement. “Other people breathe through their mouth out of habit,” she says. “Interestingly, the less they breathe through their nose, the harder it may become.”
Signs you might be a mouth breather
If you constantly wake up with an exceptionally dry mouth or lips, or even a sore throat, Rotenberg says there’s a good chance you’re breathing through your mouth at night. Since some nighttime mouth breathers also breathe through their mouths during the day, you can try looking at photos or observing yourself in the mirror. “If your lips are parted or your mouth is hanging open, chances are you’re breathing through it,” says Magid-Katz. You can also self-assess your smile, as an extra gummy smile might mean you’ve been mouth breathing since childhood. Or, look at your posture from a side angle, or get someone to take a picture of you. Those with blocked airways, including mouth breathers, tend to have heads that reach forward because they’re trying to get more air. (Since most mouth breathing starts in childhood, our posture can naturally develop this way to accommodate the habit.)
How does mouth taping work?
The practice consists of using some kind of porous tape—not duct tape or masking tape—to keep the lips shut at night in order to encourage nasal breathing. Its appearance differs based on the brand, but mouth tape is often thin, transparent and can be applied horizontally, vertically or in a criss-cross shape across the lips. If you’re picturing looking like a hostage with tape across your mouth, you can take comfort in knowing the tape made specifically for this purpose doesn’t look quite as alarming as duct tape would – although it’s still slightly creepy and strange-looking. And while it will be more challenging to talk to your partner or take a sip of water in the night, mouth taping fans say the benefits can outweigh these minor inconveniences.
“If you are going to try tape, use one that is porous and is not too adhesive so that you can still open your mouth if need be,” Magid-Katz suggests. This way, she says, the tape is more of a reminder and less restrictive. Some users try basic surgical tape from the pharmacy. She recommends doing an initial trial run for a short period of time during the day or early evening, when you are awake and calm.
Once you apply the tape, put your tongue to the roof of your mouth and breathe through your nose slowly. You can even do this with the help of a meditative breathing app.
“If it does not feel right for you, don’t do it,” she says. “Most importantly, always make sure you are able to breathe through your nose safely.”
According to Magid-Katz, some people do find mouth taping combined with over-the-counter nose strips (which are worn outside the nose and help open the sinus passages) to be effective. (You can also use nasal dilators, which go inside the nostrils.)
And while Magid-Katz says mouth taping could work for some, Rotenberg says he’s “firmly against mouth taping.” That’s because mouth breathing is usually caused by some kind of obstruction, so taping the mouth shut without an understanding of what the source of obstruction is in the first place doesn’t really make sense. “It’s not as if you can psychologically trick yourself to overcome nasal allergies or a deviated septum,” he says.
What to do if you’re a mouth breather
Instead of mouth taping, Rotenberg says it’s a better idea to go see your healthcare provider to figure out what the actual source of the obstruction is and treat that instead. “There are lots of safe and proven solutions, you just need to have the correct diagnosis first,” he says. Allergies, for example, can be treated with nasal steroid sprays, while surgery is an option for polyps or a deviated septum.
Magid-Katz also recommends speaking to a physician or dentist who is knowledgeable when it comes to the airway. It’s important to make sure the nasal passage is clear and the dental arches allow for proper nasal breathing, she says, and you can also talk to a myofunctional therapist who can help strengthen and retrain the muscles. Some dental appliances are designed to help children and adults correct the habit as well. “For some people, the more they breathe through their nose the clearer and easier it gets, so the first thing to do is become more conscious of it,” she says. “Try setting your phone alarm periodically throughout the day as a reminder to think about whether your mouth is open and how you’re breathing, or have a friend or loved one look at you periodically and note if your mouth is open. Set aside time each morning and night to practice proper breathing techniques.”