Months into the global pandemic of Coronavirus-19, the U.S. population has regularly been wearing face masks, to work entire shifts in, for short periods to visit family or go to a grocery store, or to walk around crowded areas in. Although NC has entered Stage 3 of Covid-19 plans, we are still months or possibly a year away from restrictions around mask-wearing easing. South Charlotte Dentistry has the latest on the phenomena known as “mask mouth,” what you can do to prioritize your oral health during this time, and how to negate the effects of wearing a mask.


What happens when we wear a mask?

When we speak a single phrase, hundreds of respiratory droplets are released, reaching anywhere from 20 to 500 micrometers. Respiratory droplets increase when we cough, sneeze, or raise our voices. A mask keeps those respiratory droplets contained, preventing the spread of the droplets from transmitting to another person through the air. Since COVID-19 is airborne, we must wear masks to keep others safe, whether we’re experiencing symptoms or not. The virus is known to present in asymptomatic cases, or in persons who are infected but do not show any symptoms of the virus.

The CDC recommends that everyone uses and wears masks for protection and to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19. The CDC does not recommend mask-wearing for children under the age of 2 years old, or anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a mask without assistance (read more here).


What is mask mouth?

Mask mouth has been termed by dentists to describe the stinky breath, dry mouth, and the effects of the buildup of bad bacteria in the mouth from wearing a mask (e.g. cavities, periodontal disease, etc.).

In an interview with the New York Post, dentist Dr. Rob Ramondi stated that about 50% of their patients are affected by the ‘mask mouth’ trend. He went on to say that these were patients who, before the mask-wearing mandates, had healthy teeth and gums, but are now presenting dental problems due to the face masks.

Dentists nationwide are describing similar upticks in patients displaying the symptoms of mask mouth.


Mouth breathing is leading to dry mouth.

Dry mouth is triggered by wearing face coverings, since people tend to breathe through their mouth instead of through their nose while wearing a mask. Mouth breathing leads to a decrease in saliva. Saliva is essential to your oral health; saliva fights bacteria and keeps your teeth clean, neutralizing acid in the mouth to help prevent tooth decay and gum disease

Another tendency people have while wearing masks is the decreased consumption of water throughout the day. Due to the pressures of a global pandemic, it may be safe to hypothesize that people are consuming more coffee and alcohol during the lockdown, resulting in widespread dehydration.

If left untreated, dry mouth can lead to increased plaque, tooth decay, mouth sores, gum disease, or thrush.


Think you had bad breath from wearing a mask? You might be onto something.

There are definitely days when we’ve experienced re-consuming our own stinky breath in our masks and thought, “Does my breath always smell this bad?” On the bright side, at least the masks prevent another person from smelling your bad breath. But it turns out, bad breath has been a collective experience lately, revealing that face masks and poor oral hygiene are starting to take a toll on our oral health.

Halitosis, also known as bad breath, can be an embarrassing issue to deal with, and certainly not pleasant to experience under the current safety guidelines. Oftentimes, the bad breath patients report can be cured with a good cleaning, and great, consistent daily oral hygiene, and cutting down on fragrant or strong smelling foods and beverages. However, some bad breath can be signs of more serious health conditions.

If you are already experiencing bad breath, you may already have periodontal disease, or you have bad bacteria sitting on your tongue due to dry mouth. If your bad breath is not going away and the breath smells way worse than usual, then you need to contact your dentist right away. Gum disease is known to smell like cabbage or rotting eggs, since the bad bacteria that cause gum disease can release a sulfurous chemical called methyl mercaptan. Bad breath caused by gum disease is nothing to be ashamed of – in fact, 75% of American adults have bad breath because of underlying gum disease.

Gum disease, however, is an irreversible dental condition. It may start with dry mouth, but left untreated, leads to plaque buildup that slowly damages the gums and bone structure in the mouth. Gum disease can be scary because it often begins without any pain or warning signs, and may only show when you’re experiencing symptoms like receding or inflamed gums.

If you don’t like what you’re smelling while wearing a mask, then talk to your dentist at South Charlotte Dentistry today. We can get to the root of your bad breath problem, and provide solutions to help you today.


Cavities, on cavities.

Rather than a spike in cavities due to the over indulgence of candy and sweets eating around Halloween and the upcoming holidays, we’re instead seeing an early large spike in cavities among adults. This has been a big surprise in the world of dentistry!

An increase in cavities is directly related to the dry mouth phenomena of mask mouth, or the lack of saliva caused by us breathing through our mouths while wearing a mask. Saliva is our body’s first defense against cavities and keeping our teeth and gums healthy, so when we’re producing less saliva, we’re seeing an increase in bacteria. Cavities should not be left untreated; once bacteria has started to damage your teeth, the teeth and gums need to be treated by a professional, whether that’s with gum disease treatments or fillings and restoration.


What we’re NOT saying for you or encouraging you to do:

  • To stop wearing a mask
  • To stop following local and nationwide mask mandates
  • To stop listening to the CDC or abiding by health and safety guidelines

The negative oral health side effects of wearing a mask do not outweigh the benefits of wearing a mask. COVID-19 is a public health crisis, and the science shows that wearing a mask absolutely reduces the risk of transmission. Do your part to protect yourself and others by wearing a mask. In the next section, we will discuss how you can improve your oral health, while staying safe and continuing to wear a mask.


How can you avoid the negative effects of mask mouth?

Attend your regular dental cleanings.

Our office is following all local, state, and national guidelines for keeping the office clean and sanitary, as well as keeping our staff and patients as safe as possible. Regular cleanings can keep the bacteria and build-up on your teeth in check, and keep a handle on any concerns you may have about your oral health before they become major problems.


Implement daily fluoride into your routine.

Fluoride can be a great help right now to maintaining your oral health. Fluoride is accessible through city drinking water, which is fluorinated, and through most toothpaste. An easy place to start is by checking your toothpaste to make sure that it contains fluoride, brushing twice a day, and drinking more water. If you’re worried about staining your teeth from fluoride, look for Sodium Fluoride – Stannous Fluoride may stain your teeth.

Our fluoride treatments at South Charlotte Dentistry are very affordable and can be done on the same appointment as your cleaning. Ask your dentist if you are a suitable candidate for a fluoride treatment.


Practice great dental hygiene!

It is easy for anyone to become slack with excellent dental hygiene, but prioritize your oral health now more than ever. Brush your teeth at least twice daily, or even increase to brushing your teeth after every meal, snack, or sugary drink. Floss daily! Once it becomes an established part of your routine, whether that’s in the morning or before bed, take five minutes or less to floss. Rinse your mouth with mouthwash daily. Scrape your tongue with the backside of your toothbrush each time you brush to ensure that you’re removing any bacteria from your tongue that can lead to bad breath. Make sure that any mouthwash you’re using is alcohol-free to prevent drying out your mouth.


Cut down on caffeine and alcohol, and drink more water.

Keeping your body hydrated will naturally increase your saliva output, leading to healthier, happier teeth and gums.


Consider investing in a humidifier.

Humidifiers can be found online for as cheap as $15, and are a great and easy to way to moisten the air. Whether you add one to your desk to run while you work or on your nightstand as you sleep, a humidifier could help you throughout your day and night. 


Quit or cut down on smoking. 

Smoking notoriously leads to dry mouth. The nicotine in tobacco reduces saliva flow and can cause saliva to become thicker, and therefore, less effective.


Be more mindful and try to breathe through your nose while wearing a mask.

This is definitely easier said than done, but pay attention to your breathing throughout the day, and try to breathe more consistently through your nose. This will reduce dry mouth.


Refresh or change your mask as recommended.

The respiratory particles we talked about earlier land and live on your mask as you breathe and talk throughout the day, and the buildup of those particles can cause an odor. With bad breath, in particular, make sure that you are changing or washing your masks as recommended by the CDC or retailer. Your mask may stink even before a whole day of wear, so have additional masks on hand to switch out your masks. One-time wear masks should be disposed of after one wash.

An obvious, quick solution to bad breath while wearing a mask would be to keep breath mints or chewing gum on hand, but these are only a temporary solution to the real problem, and may add more sugar intake to your teeth or stress out your jaw from chewing. Talk to your dentist about bad breath, and we can get your smile fresh again!

Some bad breath mask wearers have also recommended using essential oil sprays on their masks. If there’s a smell you enjoy, like lavender or mint, and you aren’t sensitive to strong smells, give the mask a spritz! This might be a great temporary solution for those waiting on their dentist appointment.


Contact South Charlotte dentistry today.

There has never been a more important time to attend your dental appointments. We can help with the side effects of mask mouth with the following dental services:

Due to restrictions on how many patients can be seen at one time in the office and cleaning regimens to ensure the safety of our staff and patients, you may have to book further ahead of time than anticipated, as we have fewer appointments available per day. Prioritize your dental health today by giving us a call now to schedule your appointment at (704) 759-0908.

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