A trend known as mouth taping is all over TikTok—but doctors warn people to be skeptical about the promises some content creators are making.
According to Rajkumar Dasgupta, MD, associate program director of the Sleep Medicine Fellowship at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, mouth taping is exactly what it sounds like.
“It is taping your mouth closed at night to encourage you to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth,” he told Health. This is usually done with special mouth tape, which looks a lot like beauty facial patches.
But taping your mouth is not the best way to ensure nose-breathing during sleep, and it can be a dangerous practice, warned Erich Voigt, MD, director of general and sleep otolaryngology in the Department of Otolaryngology- Head & Neck Surgery at NYU Langone Health.
“The people who are promoting this trend, many of them are trying to sell mouth tape,” Dr. Voigt told Health. “There are benefits for breathing through your nose but do not tape your mouth shut to do so.”
Breathing air into your lungs through your nose rather than your mouth does have real benefits.
According to Andrew Wellman, MD, director of the Sleep Disordered Breathing Lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the nose warms, humidifies, and filters the air you breathe, which the mouth can’t really do. This humid air keeps airways lubricated and the filtering traps potentially harmful particles so they don’t end up in the lungs.
Particularly in nasal breathing, the nose also produces nitric oxide, a gas that can help open blood vessels—and thus, aid in lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow.
On the flip side, “mouth breathing can dry out your mouth which increases your risk of bad breath and gum inflammation,” said Dr. Dasgupta. Additionally, open-mouth breathing can have an effect on the natural bacteria in the mouth, which can lead to gum disease or tooth decay.
There have been very few studies on mouth taping, which means any evidence in favor of the practice is lacking.
One older study from 2009, which was published in Respiratory Medicine, found that mouth taping had no effect on breathing in people with asthma.
Another small, preliminary study published earlier this year in the journal Healthcare, found that the practice could be beneficial for people with mild sleep apnea who are also mouth-breathers.
As far as other mouth taping TikTok claims go—including that it can somehow affect your bone structure or face shape—the practice is unlikely to do either.
“There is limited evidence on the benefits of mouth taping,” said Dr. Dasgupta, “and I would be very careful when it comes to mouth taping.”
Dr. Voigt warned mouth taping could be specifically dangerous for people with existing breathing issues, including sleep apnea, which can cause a host of issues including pauses in breathing during sleep, high blood pressure, and snoring. And if your nose is obstructed, taping your mouth shut will not help you breathe easier.
“If you have trouble breathing through your nose, you should find out why,” said Dr. Voigt.
That means, first and foremost, getting screened for screened for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), particularly if you or a bed partner snores.
“This is the most important message to everyone reading this article,” said Dr. Dasgupta. “OSA is commonly associated with snoring and getting OSA evaluated is very easy with either an in-lab study, or nowadays, the home sleep study.”
Some people may also have allergies that make the nose stuffy and difficult to breathe through. Other more serious conditions, such as a deviated septum or polyps, can be fixed with medical interventions, said Dr. Voigt. He also warned to never tape a child’s mouth shut.
“There are benefits to breathing with your nose but if a person cannot breathe through their nose they should not tape their mouth shut in order to do so,” said Dr. Voigt.
If obstructed sleep apnea or other underlying issues are ruled out, and the snoring continues, mouth taping is still not the best or safest way to address sleep problems. Instead, Dr. Dasgupta recommends nasal strips or dilators; avoiding sleeping on your back; and mouth, throat, and tongue exercises.
According to Dr. Dasgupta, if you absolutely must try the trend, the best route is to talk to your healthcare provider about it first.
“Taping your mouth shut is not likely to help you sleep better,” said Dr. Dasgupta. “Remember, what we do during the day helps us sleep better at night.”
His best advice for ensuring you reap the rewards of a better night’s sleep are to eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, get regular exercise, don’t smoke, avoid drinking alcohol before bed and take medication for any allergies.