Written by: Becca Malizia, MS, Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Ellen M. Martin
Did anyone have a mom or grandmother who pestered you over your posture? “Chin up, mouth closed, shoulders back.” While these may have seemed annoying and trivial at the time, it turns out there is more than etiquette at stake!
So what is correct oral posture?
Sandra Kahn, DDS, MSD, and Paul R. Ehrlich, PhD, authors of the new book Jaws: The story of a hidden epidemic, describe correct oral posture as mouth closed, teeth lightly touching, and tongue pressed to the roof of your mouth (1). “Chin up” usually coincides with proper oral posture, which helps promote good body posture as well.
Proper oral posture also encourages nose breathing, which is healthier for your mouth and better for your body
Mouth breathing versus nose breathing
You may be mouth breathing and don’t even know it! While sometimes unavoidable (during strenuous exercise, when talking, or when you’re sick), it is better to avoid mouth breathing as much as possible. As Steven Lin, DDS, explains in his podcast on Health Simple, our noses act as filters, warming the air we breathe in and producing nitric oxide, which helps with the distribution of oxygen to the body (2). This is also important for maintaining lung health (1). When you breathe through your mouth, you bring unfiltered, dehumidified air directly to the lungs. This can strain your lungs, stress your body and put you at greater risk for infections (1).
Kahn and Ehrlich also explain that mouth breathing is strongly associated with sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that is linked to many other serious diseases including cardiovascular disease (1). If you have sleep problems, focussing on your oral posture might work. Additionally, there are many other (natural) ways to improve your sleep. When you breathe through your mouth, your jaw drops, naturally impeding your airway.
How do you know if you are mouth breathing?
Kahn and Ehrlich offer some basic questions you can ask yourself to see whether you may be engaging in more mouth breathing than desired (1).
- During rest, do you often find your teeth not in light contact, or your tongue pushing your mouth apart?
- Do have trouble sleeping through the night?
- Has anyone ever told you that you snore while you sleep?
- Do you chew quickly and talk with your mouth full?
- Do you frequently have a clogged nose?
- Do you wake up with a dry mouth?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you may be unintentionally mouth breathing. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of things you can do to retrain yourself back to nose breathing.
So what can you do?
If you are a mouth breather, don’t freak out! There are plenty of things you can do to help retrain your oral posture.
- Awareness: The first step is awareness. Congratulations! By reading this article you are now aware, and can be mindful of when you are breathing through your nose or mouth.
- Accountability: Hold yourself accountable. Call yourself out. It can be hard to be aware of your own breathing; it’s easier to spot mouth breathing on someone else. Find a partner, or many, be that children, a spouse, friend, or co-worker, to pay attention and let each other know if you catch the other person mouth breathing! While this may seem silly, it can be really effective.
- Practice makes habit: The more you train and hold the proper oral posture, the easier it gets. Our muscles are designed to grow and get stronger when used. Your muscle memory will help with this. The more you practice and train the more proper oral posture becomes as easy as breathing 😉 (pun intended).
What if you mouth breathe while you sleep?
This can be a harder fix, but not impossible either! Snoring is one of the side effects of mouth breathing at night. Sleep apnea is also a more serious by product of mouth breathing.
A warning: sleep apnea is when breathing stops during sleep and can be a serious condition. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, see your doctor for evaluation.
Sometimes we mouth breathe at night because we are sick. Only if your nose is clear, and you can handle it, you might try sleeping with tape on your mouth to encourage nose breathing. Sounds uncomfortable, but if you use skin tape, it may not be too bad.
Certain sleeping positions encourage mouth breathing. If you often sleep on your back, try sleeping on your side or stomach and see if that helps. Your pillow may also be a problem: too soft and your neck and jaw may fall back and open; too hard or high and it may trigger neck pain and make it harder to sleep deeply.
The more you practice good oral posture during the day, the easier it will be for you to nose breathe while you’re asleep. Before you fall asleep each night, check your oral posture: nose clear, mouth closed, tongue on roof of mouth, neck not retracted.
While this information may be a surprise, these are simple things you can work on to help improve your oral health and well-being. Breathing well is crucial to your health in the long run! So please, don’t forget about your mouth!
Interested in your oral well-being? Check out our new ebook on the oral microbiome here.
Curious about Jaws? Click here to get your copy!
Want to listen to the podcast yourself? Click here to listen.
Stay tuned for a new post on more anti-snoring exercises to be posted soon!
- Kahn, Sandra, Ehrlich, R., Paul. Jaws: The story of a hidden epidemic. Stanford University Press. 2018. https://www.amazon.com/Jaws-Hidden-Epidemic-Sandra-Kahn/dp/1503604136
- Reidhead, Kyle. “How Your Diet Changes Your Smile and Oral Microbiome – Dr. Steven Lin.” Health Simple Podcast. 2018. https://anchor.fm/healthsimpleradio/episodes/24—How-Your-Diet-Changes-Your-Smile-and-Oral-Microbiome—Dr–Steven-Lin-e2rv5a