My husband recently pointed out that I’ve started sleeping with my mouth open. “You don’t snore,” he assured me. But then, he gently added, “You just breathe loudly through your mouth.” The noise has started making it harder for him to fall asleep — messing with his already fragile sleep schedule— and even I’ve noticed I’ve developed bad morning breath from this lovely new habit, too. On top of buying myself a tongue scraper, I started researching different ways to stop mouth breathing at night. Methods like breathing meditations and propping up my pillows were common recommendations, but mouth tape for sleeping has recently become a trend on TikTok and the name alone was enough to pique my interest. Dozens of creators have posted videos of themselves taping their mouths shut before bed, claiming it can help you sleep, eliminate bad breath, reduce cavities, strengthen your immune system, and more. Obviously, we had to do some digging. Here, our experts explain the risks and benefits — if there are any — of mouth taping.
Meet the experts:
- Michael Breus PhD, a clinical psychologist and sleep expert based in California.
- Meilan Han, MD MS, a professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care at the University of Michigan based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- Richard Lipari, DDS, a board-certified dentist at Lipari & Mangiameli Dentistry in Chappaqua, New York.
- Jeffrey Sulitzer, a DMD and chief clinical officer with SmileDirectClub based in Washington.
- Sudha Tallavajhula, MD, a neurologist at UTHealth Houston and medical director of the Neurological Sleep Medicine Center at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston.
What is mouth taping?
Mouth taping involves placing a piece of specialty tape like micropore tape (so, not the kind you’d wrap presents with) over the center of your mouth at night before you go to sleep. Creators wearing microcore tape to sleep do so in order to force the body to breathe through the nose instead of the mouth overnight, claiming benefits including improved immunity and better oral health. Nasal breathing is the body’s natural and unconscious way of breathing, according to professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care at the University of Michigan, Meilan Han, MD MS, but re-enforcing that isn’t as simple as removing your mouth from the equation. She stresses that, if someone is breathing through their mouth when they sleep, “there’s [another health] reason for that that won’t be fixed simply by taping the mouth shut.”
Is mouth-taping safe?
The short answer: probably not.
Even for generally healthy people, mouth taping’s possible side effects can include trouble breathing, clogged nasal passages, limited oxygen flow, and skin irritation. Dr. Han admits she has “a difficult time recommending mouth taping to anyone.” Michael Breus PhD, a clinical psychologist and sleep expert, has reservations as well, as mouth breathing itself is generally a sign of something limiting a person’s ability to nose-breathe, like allergies or a nasal obstruction such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps. He also warns that individuals who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea should also “never” use mouth tape, as the sleep disorder can involve episodes of abnormal breathing during the night, therefore requiring the body to breathe out of the mouth to get the oxygen it needs.
Are there benefits to breathing through your nose more at night?
Experts stress that while social media is abuzz with praise for the benefits of mouth taping, there is very little scientific evidence to definitively support them. That said, the claims that mouth taping can be beneficial in promoting better sleep quality and improved oral hygiene are rooted in the benefits that can come through breathing through the nose more often in general.
Strengthened nasal passages
“Breathing through the nose provides us benefits. The air is better filtered and humidified before entering the lungs,” which strengthens the passages in the nose, notes Dr. Han. However, because humans naturally breathe through their nose, Dr. Han stresses that if someone is constantly breathing through their mouth while they sleep, they should see a professional to look into why.
Improved oral hygiene
Bad breath, be gone? Well, maybe. According to Richard Lipari, DDS, a board-certified dentist at Lipari & Mangiameli Dentistry in Chappaqua, NY, individuals who breathe from their mouth at night are prone to dry mouth, which can result in bad breath and make them more at risk for cavities in the long run. Logically, that would mean that mouth taping should fix those issues because, well, it closes your mouth. That said, Dr. Lipari stresses that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to say mouth taping definitely improves oral hygiene.
What are the potential side effects of mouth taping?
There are several good reasons experts are generally opposed to mouth taping. The potential side effects of mouth taping — some of which are more obvious than others — are of very real concern.
The first concern that probably comes to mind when you think about physically taping your mouth closed is the ability to breathe properly. Yes, the body can breathes out of both the mouth and nose, but there’s a good reason it has two channels for oxygen to flow through. If you have an obstruction that makes it difficult to breathe solely through your nose (like the ones previously mentioned by Dr. Breus), mouth taping will make it even harder for you to breathe, especially for those with sleep apnea.
Clogging of the nasal passages
It was previously noted that nasal breathing helps to strengthen the nasal passages, but mouth breathing plays a role keeping your system clear, too. According to Dr. Han, coughing is the body’s way of keeping its air passages open, and taping your mouth shut could impair that protective mechanism.
Limited oxygen flow
According to Dr. Han, when oxygen levels in the body dip too low, heart arrhythmias or even seizures can occur. Blocking your mouth if your nose is already blocked could theoretically increase this risk. “[In this case, mouth taping could] reduce your body’s ability to get needed oxygen during sleep, thus further reducing consciousness levels,” explains Dr. Han.
Although people have been using specialty tape made for skin to mouth tape, our experts say the area around your mouth is highly sensitive, so there’s always a risk of irritation or rash.
What are some alternatives to mouth-taping?
The professionals we spoke to to obviously consider the trend as something to avoid. But if you’d still like to reap the supposed benefits of mouth taping, experts say there are plenty of alternatives to consider.
For oral health benefits:
Consider what you’re eating before bed
According to Jeffrey Sulitzer DMD, dentist and chief clinical officer of SmileDirectClub, if you want to try mouth taping to end a bout of bad morning breath, you might want to take a look at your diet first. “A dry mouth can be triggered by many foods you eat during the day, such as salty or acidic foods, and alcoholic drinks,” explains Sulitzer. Cutting back on these types of foods and beverages can help prevent it.
Establish and stick to an oral hygiene routine
One way to improve your oral hygiene is to adopt an oral-care routine. If mouth breathing could be causing bad morning breath, Dr. Sulitzer recommends investing in a new toothbrush that can help remove all food and residue buildup from your teeth and gums, as well as a water flosser to thoroughly clean the gums and rehydrate your mouth.
For sleep benefits:
Try nasal strips or a nasal dilator
Breathing through your nose while you sleep (without mouth tape) is easier if you’re not congested. An over-the-counter solution to nasal congestion that Dr. Breus recommends nasal dilators, one of his preferred methods of opening the nasal airway. “I personally use MUTE,” he says, “It opens up your nose and works [well].” He does add that if your congestion is persistent, it may be time to speak with a doctor. “While over-the-counter medications help reduce occasional congestion, a health care provider should address chronic or severe respiratory allergies.”
Change your sleep position
It almost sounds too easy, but Sudha Tallavajhula PhD, a neurologist at UTHealth Houston and medical director of the Neurological Sleep Medicine Center at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, says changing up your sleeping position can help to keep your mouth closed at night, especially if you normally sleep on your back. This adjustment is called “positional therapy,” in which you avoid supine positions during sleep. “This may be achieved either by sleeping at an incline or on the sides, using the mattress and pillow combinations you have available,” says Dr. Tallavajhula.