MASK MOUTH: A NEW DENTAL CONCERN

What You Should Know.

Masks are known to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like Covid-19 effectively. This simple barrier helps stop respiratory droplets from traveling in the air and onto other people or surfaces when they wear the mask sneezes, coughs, or talks. However, it is essential to know that wearing a mask for an extended period can create side effects. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends wearing a mask in all public settings, and studies show that masks play a crucial role in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Although we would all like to throw our masks away, getting rid of this protective measure is not a good option. Instead, we all need to learn about mask mouth. What it is, the causes, and how to prevent it — so you can maintain optimal oral health.

Image of a woman thinking of dental issues concerning mask mouth.

So…What Is Mask Mouth?

At this point, we have now been wearing face masks for nearly a year, and one of the problems with wearing a mask is that it is nearly impossible not to smell your breath. Whether or not you admit it, many of us experience that same smell when we aren’t wearing a mask. While masks are working to keep us safe from COVID, poor oral hygiene and face masks are beginning to take a toll on oral health.

So, what exactly is mask mouth? Is there really such a thing? In short, masks are known to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like Covid-19 effectively, protecting yourself and those you contact. This simple barrier helps stop respiratory droplets from traveling in the air and onto other people or surfaces when they wear the mask sneezes, coughs, or talks. However, it is essential to know that problems with wearing a mask for an extended period are prevalent and one common issue is mask mouth.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends wearing a mask in all public settings, and studies show that masks play a crucial role in slowing the spread of the COVID virus. Although we would all like to throw our masks away, getting rid of this protective measure is not a good option. Instead, we all need to learn about mask mouth. What it is, the causes, and how to prevent it — so you can maintain optimal oral health.

Image of a woman wearing a face mask.

Mask Mouth: Problems with Wearing a Mask – An Emerging Concern in Dentistry
Dentists have started seeing a new trend of dental problems because of face masks. According to Dr. Rob Ramondi in an interview with New York Post, roughly 50% of their patients have been affected by the latest trend called ‘mask mouth.’ People who once had healthy gums and teeth are now displaying new dental problems. These new dental problems are not because of a lack of acceptable hygiene practices but rather because of face mask usage. But why?

Image of a member of the dental team wearing a mask and face shield.

Mask Mouth: What Causes It?

The use of face masks increases dryness within the mouth, which unfortunately helps viruses and bacteria propagate (multiply). Saliva serves as a protective barrier and has antimicrobial components that help fight bacteria within the mouth. Even more, saliva takes part in the mucosal immune system part of our body, which aids in preventing viruses from entering directly onto the surface of our body. 

A decrease in the flow of saliva within the mouth will not only create stinky breath but ultimately, it can put our overall health at risk.

Mask mouth describes various oral side effects that come from wearing a mask for an extended amount of time. Mask mouth can include bad breath, tooth decay, dry mouth, and even gum disease. Dental professionals have attributed these side effects to a few of the following factors:

  • Disrupted breathing pattern(s). A study that PNMedical conducted shows just how wearing a mask can genuinely impact your breathing. It can cause rapid, shallow breathing using your mouth, neck, and chest versus using your diaphragm. Breathing strictly out of your mouth decreases the amount of saliva. In turn, this ends up playing a vital role in your oral health because saliva is responsible for washing away food debris and defending your teeth from unwanted decay in the form of cavities.
  • Dehydration. One of the problems with wearing a mask tends to cause individuals to consume less water than usual. Dehydration can lead to dry mouth, increasing your risk of bad breath and tooth decay.
  • Recycling air. According to Aerosol and Air Quality Research, one of the noted problems with wearing a mask is that it causes more carbon dioxide to be trapped in your mouth. This particular amount of carbon dioxide does not have any toxicological effects on your body, but it can increase your oral microbiome’s acidity. Because of this, you could be at risk for inflammatory conditions like gum disease or infections.
Image of a woman who has dental anxiety and is curious about about mask mouth symptoms and treatment.

Mask Mouth: What are the symptoms?

The severity of mask mouth symptoms varies from person to person. Mask mouth has become so prevalent that even dental insurance companies recognize it’s a real concern. Generally speaking the condition typically presents in the form of:

  • Dry mouth.  Dry mouth or xerostomia occurs when you don’t have enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Not only does dry mouth make it challenging to swallow, eat, and speak, but dry mouth also increases your chances of developing oral infections and tooth decay.
  • Bad breath. Your oral hygiene habits and what you eat can cause halitosis (bad breath). Prolonged mask-wearing can often intensify dry mouth, and it will also trap the stench caused by eating smelly foods like onions and garlic and poor oral hygiene.
  • Bleeding gums. If you notice your gums are bleeding or swollen, it could be a sign that you have gingivitis. Another one of the associated problems with wearing a mask could impact the type and amount of bacteria within your mouth, which can cause plaque build-up advancing directly to the gum tissue.
Image of a woman wearing a face mask who has mask mouth.

Oral Health: The Impacts of Using Face Masks

Who would have thought that protective equipment we have worn for years could also be the same thing that endangers us. Nebraska Family Dentistry aims to keep every patient safe by preventing the following conditions:

Increased Tooth Decay

  • Due to dryness in the mouth caused by face masks, there is not adequate saliva to flush the food particles found on our teeth. Because bacteria thrive in sugar, it begins to breed from the existing food particles and causes tooth decay.

Inflamed Gums

Bad Breath 

  • Bad breath or halitosis is the result of an odor-causing bacteria that is present in the mouth. Prolonged dryness in the mouth will only exacerbate the issue. You might notice that you could experience bad breath from a dry mouth when you have been wearing a mask for an extended period.

Gum Disease

  • Gum disease is considered a dental condition that is irreversible and requires care for a lifetime. It can begin with plaque buildup or a dry mouth and will slowly damage the gums and bone structure within the mouth. It starts without any pain or early warning signs and doesn’t become apparent until symptoms like inflamed and receding gums become present.

Changes in Breathing and Hydration Behaviors

  • Wearing a face mask makes drinking water to stay hydrated a real chore. Unfortunately, many of us tend to forget to drink water, which can be a risk factor for several health conditions.

When wearing masks, people are also more prone to mouth breathing to increase their inhalation capacity. However, when you breathe through your mouth, it only makes dry mouth much worse, leading to many dental conditions.

Dental professionals recommend breathing through your nose, staying hydrated (with water), and maintaining your oral hygiene to avoid dry mouth and any associated dental problems.

Image of a young woman thinking of dental questions regarding face coverings.

Prevention: How do you prevent mask mouth?

Even if you are experiencing some of these symptoms, be sure to continue wearing your mask. Problems with wearing a mask definitely do not outweigh the benefits. Be sure to do your part and wear a mask to slow the spread of the COVID virus and help protect those around you who are vulnerable. In the meantime, what you can do is implement some of these preventative measures:

  • Focus on your oral hygiene routine. Brush your teeth for two full minutes twice daily, and be sure to clean between your teeth with floss or other interdental devices once per day. Also, make sure to use the proper brushing technique to clean your entire mouth.
  • Freshen up between cleanings. Keep a mouthwash on hand to fight bacteria and freshen your breath between cleanings. Ask your dental professional which mouthwash they recommend to make dry mouth worse. Chewing sugar-free gum can also be of help when it comes to removing food debris and fixing bad breath.
  • Keep an eye on gum and tooth health. Because face mask mouth does increase your chances of infection, watch out for sensitive gums and teeth. If you notice any pain, discoloration, tenderness, or bleeding, see your dentist as soon as you can for treatment.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, and not sugary drinks, throughout the day to prevent xerostomia (dry mouth). Also, be sure to limit coffee and alcohol consumption, both of which can cause dehydration.
  • Use a clean mask. Regularly clean or replace your mask to help prevent bacterial growth. The CDC does recommend washing your mask daily or throwing your mask out after each use.
  • Contact a health professional. If you notice any oral complications resulting from extended mask use, be sure to contact your dentist immediately. Likewise, if you experience any skin issues from wearing a mask, be sure to contact a dermatologist.
  • Get some fresh air. Periodically throughout the day, be sure to remove your mask and get some fresh air.
Image of the Nebraska Family Dentistry logo.

Nebraska Family Dentistry can help you prevent dental problems when using face masks.

We can’t afford many of the risks that chance getting us sick during a pandemic and Nebraska Family Dentistry seeks to ease this trend and keep all of our patients safe by providing the following dental services in Lincoln, NE:

  • Dental Cleanings: We can help reduce the plaque buildup that causes gum disease and tooth decay.
  • Gum Disease Treatments: If you have already started damaging your gums, we can help prevent the bacteria from spreading further with our gum disease treatments.
  • FillingsandRestorations: If bacteria has damaged your teeth, we can still help. We have many options to help you rebuild your smile.
Image of biological dentist Dr. Kathryn Alderman discussing mask mouth with a patient.

Here are a few commonly asked questions about problems associated with wearing a mouth covering:

Does wearing a mask pose any health risks?

Wearing a mask will not harm your health even if you are sick with the common cold or have allergies. The most important thing to remember is to change your mask regularly. Wash reusable masks daily and throw out reusable masks after each use.

Does prolonged wearing of a facemask cause harm?

In short, not wearing a facemask for an extended period has not been shown to cause a lack of adequate oxygen or carbon dioxide toxicity. There are healthcare workers who routinely wear masks for extended periods, and to date, there have not been any adverse effects reported.

Can I get COVID-19 from touching the front of my face mask?

One of the problems with wearing a mask is knowing how to properly wear and remove it. It is crucial to know that, yes, you can become infected from touching the front of your facemask. Because the job of your mask is to stop airborne particles, you could have unknowingly encountered someone who wasn’t wearing a mask that was infected. Once the mask has been removed, it is still important to remember not to touch its front. If the mask is disposable, throw it away and if the mask is reusable, be sure to wash it.

Image of a woman with a face covering looking in the mirror.

The bottom line…Mask mouth could create an inconvenience, but it is very easy to address with the right tools. Mask up, keep yourself and your neighbors safe, and keep up with your oral hygiene. If facemasks are now the new normal, we should consider our health a luxury. So, be sure you prioritize your oral health by contacting us to schedule an appointment today!