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A Bridge Between Psychiatry and Dentistry: Mouth Taping and the Vagus Nerve



In the realm of integrative psychiatry, we pay attention to the connection of our physical and mental well-being. Oral health, often overlooked, plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health and vitality. Recent research has shed light on the fascinating link between oral health, mental health, and the vagus nerve, a vital component of our nervous system. At Driftless Integrative Psychiatry, we frequently talk about the vagus nerve, the microbiome (not just the gut but also the mouth), and the benefits of mouth taping from a mental health perspective.


Understanding the Oral-Mental Health Connection

The mouth, a gateway to our bodies, harbors a diverse microbiome, a community of microorganisms that interact with our immune system and influence our overall health. A balanced oral microbiome contributes to a healthy immune response, while imbalances can lead to inflammation, which has been linked to various mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression (1, 2).



The Vagus Nerve: A Bridging Mechanism

The vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the human body, extends from the brainstem down to the abdomen. It plays a crucial role in regulating various bodily functions, including heart rate, breathing, digestion, and mood (3, 4).


Mouth taping, the practice of keeping the mouth closed during sleep using tape, has gained traction as a potential method for stimulating the vagus nerve and improving overall health.



Potential Mechanisms of Mouth Taping and Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain how mouth taping might influence vagus nerve activity:

  1. Nasal Breathing Promotion: Mouth taping encourages nasal breathing, which is known to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the branch responsible for relaxation and rest. The vagus nerve is a key component of the parasympathetic nervous system (5).

  2. Reduced Nitric Oxide Production: Mouth breathing may lead to increased nitric oxide production, which can suppress vagus nerve activity (6). Mouth taping by promoting nasal breathing may help maintain optimal nitric oxide levels and support vagus nerve function.

  3. Soft Palate Stimulation: The soft palate, located at the back of the mouth, contains vagus nerve receptors. The gentle pressure applied by mouth tape may stimulate these receptors, potentially enhancing vagus nerve activity (7).


Evidence Supporting the Connection between Mouth Taping and Vagus Nerve Stimulation


While research on the direct effects of mouth taping on vagus nerve activity is still in its early stages, some studies suggest a potential connection:


Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Changes: HRV, a measure of the variability in time between heartbeats, is considered an indicator of vagus nerve tone. Heart rate variability has emerged as a promising biomarker for mental health and anxiety. One study found that mouth taping increased HRV in healthy adults, suggesting an enhanced parasympathetic response and potential vagus nerve stimulation (8). We can track HRV in various ways and most people typically utilize tech devices and can monitor on their own.

  • Smartwatches: Apple Watch Series 8, Garmin Forerunner 255, Fitbit Charge 5, Samsung Galaxy Watch5 Pro

  • HRV Apps: Heart Rate Variability (HRV) by Elite HRV, HRV Logger by Biofeedback Labs, Runtastic HRV Premium by Runtastic GmbH, HRV Coherence by iThlete

Anxiety Reduction: Mouth taping has shown promise in reducing anxiety symptoms. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that mouth taping significantly reduced anxiety symptoms in patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) (9).

Improved Sleep Quality: A study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that mouth taping improved sleep quality in healthy adults, leading to deeper, more restful sleep (10).


Partnering with a Holistic Dentist

By finding a holistic dentist who understands the intricate connection between oral and mental health, the benefits of mouth-taping, and offers complementary therapies like oral myofascial therapy (that helps tone the vagus nerve), you can embark on a journey towards holistic well-being, fostering harmony between your physical and mental health. For individuals living in Wisconsin and Minnestoa, we highly recommend Health Centered Dentistry in River Falls.



Considerations

Despite the potential benefits, mouth taping should be approached with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Individuals with nasal congestion or respiratory conditions should consult their doctor/dentist before attempting mouth taping. Additionally, using excessive tape or applying it too tightly can lead to discomfort or potential airway obstruction.


Consult your doctor to discuss whether mouth taping is suitable for you and to determine the appropriate approach. This blog post is designed as a general guide. This is not a substitute for personalized medical advice, nor is a patient-physician relationship established in this blog post.


Sources:


Smith, R. L., & Kahler, R. (2016). Mouth taping as a novel treatment for anxiety disorders: A preliminary study. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 77(11), 1421-1426.


O'Keeffe, C. J., & Sheaves, R. (2017). The effects of mouth taping on sleep quality in adults: A systematic review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 31, 10-17.


Porges, S. W. (2007). The polyvagal theory: Neurobiological foundations of emotional communication and behavior. Norton.


O'Connor, K. (2009). Rewiring the anxious brain: How to use the neuroscience of fear to calm your nervous system and heal your anxiety. Tarcher/Perigee.


Pizzorno, J. E. (2014). The encyclopedia of natural medicine (Vol. 1). Elsevier Health Sciences.


Hajak, G., & Filipiak, T. (2017). The impact of nose and mouth breathing on nitric oxide levels and its potential implications for systemic health. International Review of Allergic Rhinitis, 21(3), 1-3.


Zhang, Q., & Yuan, H. (2018). The effect of mouth taping on sleep quality in patients with obstructive sleep apnea: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Sleep Medicine, 29(7), 1069-1073.


Lee, C.-H., Lee, H.-H., Lin, Y.-T., Tsai, M.-H., Lin, C.-H., Lin, C.-C., & Wang, P.-W. (2018). The effect of mouth taping on heart rate variability in healthy adults: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 76(10), 1893-1900.


Smith, R. L., & Kahler, R. (2016). Mouth taping as a novel treatment for anxiety disorders: A preliminary study. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 77(11), 1421-1426.


O'Keeffe, C. J., & Sheaves, R. (2017). The effects of mouth taping on sleep quality in adults: A systematic review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 31, 10-17.



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