This reporting is part of Stuff’s fact-checking project, The Whole Truth – Te Tikanga Katoa. You can read the rest of our fact-checks here.

Read this story in te reo Māori and English here. / Pānuitia tēnei i te reo Māori me te reo Pākehā ki konei.

What’s the issue?

The trend of “mouth taping” at bedtime has taken off on social media. It is what it sounds like: using medical tape over your lips to encourage breathing through your nose.

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There are countless videos on TikTok claiming all kinds of health benefits, and special sticky patches – some even marketed for use on children – for sale online.

It’s known breathing through your nose as opposed to your mouth is a more efficient and effective way to breathe. We don’t need to fact-check that. But if you’re a mouth breather – can taping help?

What we found

There’s been increasing public interest in nasal breathing in recent years, with high-profile books and people touting the benefits – and opportunists looking to profit.

United States journalist James Nestor’s 2020 book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, about links between wellness and breathing technique, sold more than one million copies in its first year of publication and helped mouth taping go mainstream.

Stanford University neurobiology professor Andrew Huberman, who has a popular podcast and large social media following, is also a big proponent of nasal breathing.

Taping your mouth ... a good idea?


Taping your mouth ... a good idea?

Even Kourtney Kardashian has shared details of her “tongue therapy routine” to address breathing habits.

But it’s unclear whether we can simply train ourselves to breathe correctly, especially if there are underlying medical issues at play.

And as for mouth taping? Beyond anecdotes, there’s little to back up its benefits. And experts warn it’s potentially dangerous.

A couple of very small trials have looked at whether it can alleviate snoring in people with pre-existing sleep conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea – where you stop breathing for short periods of time while you are asleep.

One found mouth-taping during sleep improved snoring and the severity of sleep apnea. Another concluded a porous oral patch could be a useful device to treat patients with mild obstructive sleep apnea.

But New Zealand Sleep Well Clinic medical director Dr Alex Bartle says it’s likely taping just makes snoring less noisy.

“You’re still snoring, you’re just snoring through your nose, which doesn’t make as much noise as snoring through your mouth. Taping your mouth doesn’t stop the problem.”

Breathing habits often start in childhood and ideally that’s when they should be addressed by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, Bartle says. “If a child is often mouth breathing, they’re likely to continue to be mouth breathers as adults.”

Enlarged adenoids or tonsils can be to blame, he adds. Left unchecked, long-term mouth breathing can affect the development of a child’s facial structure, he says. (Though the extent of this is unclear, with orthodontist Peter Dysart saying the relationship has been debated “for many decades”.)

It should go without saying, but putting tape over the mouth of a child or baby is potentially “very dangerous”, Bartle adds.

Professor Dawn Elder, head of University of Otago, Wellington’s Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, with a research focus in the area of sleep and breathing, says if you don’t have a good nasal airway, you’ll breathe through your mouth – “either all of the time or some of the time”.

“If a baby is breathing through their mouth most of the time then it is because the nasal airway is not optimal,” Elder says. “It is therefore not a good idea to put tape on the mouth.”

Instead, seek medical advice to try and work out why the nose isn’t working as well as it should be.

Australian ENT surgeon Dr David McIntosh, who has a special interest in sleep disorders and airway obstruction, has publicly addressed the issue: “Mouth taping shouldn’t even be a thing before someone has seen an ear, nose and throat doctor.”

Forcing someone with a nasal obstruction to breathe through their nose – without addressing the underlying issues – will potentially worsen the obstruction, he says.

In summary

If you’re consistently struggling to breathe through your nose, it’s important to get to the root of the problem.

Rather than taping your mouth, it’s probably better to see a doctor.

Reporting disclosure statement: This post was written with expert advice from New Zealand Sleep Well Clinic medical director Dr Alex Bartle, paediatrician Professor Dawn Elder and New Zealand Association of Orthodontists president, Peter Dysart.

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