Masks help prevent the spread of infectious diseases — like the Covid-19 virus — protecting both you and those you come in contact with. The simple barrier helps stop respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when a person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. However, wearing a mask for an extended period can create unwanted side effects, such as mask mouth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a mask in public settings and studies show masks play a crucial role in slowing the virus's spread, so getting rid of this protective measure is not the answer. Instead, learn all about mask mouth — what it is, what causes it, and how you can prevent it — so you can find relief.
What Is Mask Mouth: Causes, Symptoms & Prevention
Mask mouth describes the variety of oral side effects from wearing a mask for an extended time. Mask mouth might include dry mouth, bad breath, tooth decay, and even gum disease. Dental professionals attribute these side effects to a few factors:
- Disrupted breathing patterns. A study conducted by PNMedical shows how wearing a mask can impact your breathing, causing more rapid, shallow breaths using your mouth, chest and neck instead of your diaphragm. Breathing out of your mouth decreases the amount of saliva, which plays an important role in your oral health — washing away food debris, and defending your teeth from cavities.
- Dehydration. Wearing a mask also causes you to drink less water than usual. Dehydration can lead to dry mouth, increasing your risk of tooth decay and bad breath.
- Recycling air. When you wear a mask, you trap more carbon dioxide in your mouth than usual, according to Aerosol and Air Quality Research. This amount of carbon dioxide does not have a toxicological effect on your body. However, it can increase the acidity of your oral microbiome, which might put you at risk for infections or inflammatory conditions like gum disease.
The severity of mask mouth symptoms varies for each person, but the condition most commonly presents itself as:
- Dry mouth. Xerostomia, or dry mouth, occurs when you don't have enough saliva to keep your mouth moist. Not only does dry mouth make it difficult to eat, swallow and speak, but it also increases your chance for developing tooth decay and other oral infections.
- Bad breath. What you eat, your oral hygiene habits, and dry mouth can all cause halitosis, more commonly known as bad breath. Prolonged mask-wearing can intensify dry mouth, but it also traps the stench caused by poor oral hygiene or eating smelly foods like garlic and onions.
- Bleeding gums. If you notice your gums are swollen or bleeding, it could be a sign of gingivitis. Wearing a mask may impact the type and amount of bacteria in your mouth, which can cause plaque build-up and advance that to your gum tissues.
Even if you experience some of these symptoms, keep wearing your mask. Wearing your mask slows the spread of the virus and helps protect the vulnerable in your community. Instead, implement some of these preventative measures:
- Focus on your oral care routine. Brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day and clean between your teeth with floss or other interdental devices once a day. Make sure you use the proper brushing technique to clean all your mouth's nooks and crannies.
- Freshen up between cleanings. Keep a mouthwash on hand to freshen your breath and fight bacteria between cleanings. Ask your dental professional to recommend a mouthwash that does not exacerbate dry mouth. Chewing sugar-free gum can also help remove food debris and fix bad breath.
- Keep an eye on tooth and gum health. Because mask mouth increases your chances of infection, watch out for sensitive teeth and gums. If you notice any discoloration, pain, bleeding, or tenderness, see your dentist as soon as you safely can for treatment.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water throughout the day to help prevent dry mouth. It might also help to limit alcohol and coffee consumption, which can cause dehydration.
- Use a clean mask. Regularly replace or clean your mask to prevent bacterial growth. The CDC recommends washing your mask daily or throwing your mask out after each wear.
- Contact a health professional. If you notice any oral complications from extended mask use, contact your dentist immediately. Similarly, if your mask causes skin issues, talk to your dermatologist.
Mask mouth might create an inconvenience, but it's easy to address with the right tools. Plus, the price of paying extra attention to your oral care is worth protecting your neighbors and friends from the Covid-19 virus. So mask up and keep up with your oral hygiene!
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.