These are commonly asked questions in our current phase of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic with continued mask recommendations and, in some places, mandates. Some have begun to feel concerned over how constant mask wearing affects their health, and specifically wonder about its effects on oral health.
We will not address any issues with mask wearing and overall health since that is not our area of expertise. We will simply cover the way that mask wearing affects your oral health in this article.
It is important for our readers to remember that all dentists and dental team members have worn masks as an essential part of our personal protective equipment (PPE) for decades. We wore masks long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will continue wearing them after we finally gain control over this virus.
We completely understand any frustrations you may have with wearing a mask, like fogging up your glasses (because we also have to wear safety eye coverings even if we don’t wear prescription glasses) and concerns over how wearing a mask can affect you.
We also have many years of experience wearing masks for multiple hours every day, so we answer these questions about “mask mouth” from personal experience.
One of the most common concerns we hear from our patients regarding their frequent mask wearing is that they are noticing bad breath. This worries some people that something is wrong.
Being able to perceive your own bad breath is actually a good thing. It enables you to smell your own breath, which is actually quite difficult to do. It can help you know when you need to rinse and/or brush after a meal, and it can even alert you to serious oral health problems.
Most people do not realize that bad breath is always the result of too much bad bacteria in the mouth. Severe bad breath usually indicates severe dental disease, like large cavities on multiple teeth or advanced gum disease. (It is possible to have bad breath while your teeth and gums are healthy, but severe bad breath typically involves some disease process.)
Many people use this increased awareness of bad breath while wearing a mask as motivation to improve their daily oral hygiene! When you do a better job of removing dental plaque with good brushing and flossing techniques, you reduce the amount of bad bacteria in your mouth, which in turn reduces the bad odors they can produce.
For those unaccustomed to wearing masks for prolonged periods of time, breathing can be awkward or uncomfortable. Fogging over of much needed prescription lenses can lead to changes in breathing patterns, including increased breathing through the mouth. Most people can adapt and return to normal breathing if they wear masks regularly.
However, in the meantime, breathing through the mouth can have a drying effect on the mouth. This may lead to feelings of increased thirst, tissues sticking on the inside of the mouth, and worsening of bad breath.
In addition to being conscious of how you are breathing while wearing a mask, we also recommend chewing a piece of sugar-free gum to help stimulate saliva and moisturize the mouth. Just remember not to blow any bubbles!
When not wearing your mask, make sure to drink plenty of plain water so that you do not experience dehydration, which will worsen dry mouth. We know that wearing a mask makes it more difficult to stay hydrated because you have to lift or lower the mask to take a drink. It is worth the effort to keep your mouth moisturized and your body hydrated!
An increased risk for dental diseases is a potential consequence of any prolonged dry mouth that mask wearing causes. Again, from our experience of wearing masks for decades, we feel that most people can overcome the urge to breathe through their mouths and return to normal nose breathing. If you are unable to do so, and you experience constant mouth breathing, you may be at risk for the dental consequences of a dry mouth.
A dry mouth can have a devastating effect on oral health. When the mouth is dry, there is an increase in plaque buildup. More dental plaque means more bacteria. The plaque in a dry mouth is not only greater in quantity. It is also different in quality; it is more difficult to remove from the teeth.
Dry mouths also lack the protective functions of a healthy salivary flow. Saliva works to fight plaque buildup and the diseases it causes. Saliva has enzymes that can break down bad bacteria. It also contains minerals that strengthen enamel after bacterial attacks. Without saliva, the risk for both cavities and gum disease increases greatly.
It is important to understand that this increased risk for cavities and gum disease is very unlikely with mask wearing alone. The risk for dental diseases comes from the dry mouth that potentially results from poor breathing patterns underneath a mask. We truly believe that this is a temporary problem for most people and unlikely to truly cause dental problems.
In short - No.
Wearing a mask may increase the risk for greater levels of plaque buildup due to a dry mouth, but it does not cause cavities or gum disease. Those who practice great oral hygiene and consistently remove dental plaque with good brushing and flossing techniques will not suffer any ill effects from wearing a mask. Ask your dentist! He or she can affirm this.
If you are experiencing noteworthy bad breath underneath your mask and have not had a dental evaluation in over a year, it is time to schedule one. The bad breath could be the result of active dental diseases like cavities and gum disease. Don’t wait until something hurts to seek out dental care!
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our oral health experts. We can assess your current situation, identify any active oral health problems, and help you address the issues as needed with dental treatments. We love helping our patients maintain great oral health always, but especially throughout this COVID-19 pandemic.