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Mask Mouth: How Face Masks Are Affecting Oral Health And How You Can Prevent It

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, masks have become a staple. Face masks offer protection against respiratory and reduce community transmission, making masks one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease. As a result, masks have become a part of our new normal, which in a way, is no longer 'new.'

Wearing a mask help respiratory droplets from travelling into the air and onto other people when a person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. So, while masks are generally helpful, prolonged use of the same mask can lead to oral health problems - and I'm sure I'm not alone in the bad breath and dry mouth associated with prolonged mask use.

Masks 101: The Dos And Don'ts Of Wearing A Face Mask

What Is Mask Mouth?

A new term coined by the COVID-19 pandemic, mask mouth, describes the variety of oral side effects from wearing a mask for an extended time. A study published in the Community and Preventive Dentistry journal pointed found out that wearing masks for long hours can impact your oral health [1].

While wearing a mask is crucial for public safety, you also need to make sure that you keep your teeth clean and your mouth healthy so as to avoid mask mouth.

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What Causes Mask Mouth?

Mask mouth is caused by wearing a mask for a long time. Keeping your mouth closed behind a cloth mask, and breathing through your mouth more than your nose, can dry out your mouth. As your mouth becomes dry, your breath starts to smell, which in turn can severely affect your oral health [2].

So, what causes mask mouth?

  • Dehydration: Wearing a mask for long hours can cause you to drink less water than usual, thereby causing you to become dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to dry mouth, increasing your risk of tooth decay and bad breath [3].
  • Recycled air: As studies point out, when you wear a mask, you trap more carbon dioxide in your mouth than usual [4]. While the minute amount of carbon dioxide does not have a toxicological effect on your body, it can increase the oral microbiome's acidity and increase the risk of infections or inflammatory conditions like gum disease.
  • Disrupted breathing pattern: Several studies and health experts have looked into how wearing a mask can impact your breathing, causing more rapid, shallow breaths using your mouth, chest, and neck instead of your diaphragm. When you breathe out of your mouth, it decreases the amount of saliva, which help wash away food debris and prevent tooth cavities [5].

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What Are The Symptoms Of Mask Mouth?

The severity of mask mouth symptoms varies for each person. The common symptoms of mask mouth are as follows [6]:

  • Bad breath (halitosis): Prolonged mask-wearing can intensify dry mouth, but it also traps the stench caused by poor oral hygiene and foods with a strong smell, resulting in bad breath.
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia): This occurs when you don't have enough saliva to keep your mouth moist.
  • 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 irritate the gum tissues [7].

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How Does Prolonged Mask Use Affect Oral Health?

Anything that is beneficial to us has its downsides, too, if not used cautiously. Below mentioned are some of the long-term effects that could stem from the irresponsible use of face masks [8].

  • Gum disease: Gum disease is an irreversible dental condition and starts with a dry mouth or plaque build-up and slowly damages the gums and bone structure in the mouth. It begins without early warning signs or pain and only becomes apparent when symptoms like receding and inflamed gums start to show.
  • Tooth decay: Due to the dryness in the mouth caused by face masks, there is not enough saliva to flush out the food particles in our teeth. With bacteria thriving in sugar, they will start to breed from the food particles and cause painful tooth decay.

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How To Prevent Mask Mouth?

Wearing your mask slows the spread of the virus and helps protect the vulnerable in your community. To prevent mask mouth, you can look practise the following measures [9][10]:

  • Always use a clean mask, and 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.
  • Stay hydrated to prevent dry mouth.
  • Keep an eye on tooth and gum health. If you notice any discolouration, pain, bleeding, or tenderness, consult a dentist.
  • Use mouthwash to freshen your breath and fight bacteria between cleanings. Chewing sugar-free gum can also help remove food debris and fix bad breath.
  • Oral care routine is important. Brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day and clean between your teeth with floss.

COVID-19: Proper Use, Reuse And Disposal Of Masks, Verified By Experts

On A Final Note...

Even if you experience some of these symptoms, keep wearing your mask. But make sure you replace and wash (cloth) the masks after each use, and discard sensibly if the mask becomes soiled.

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