2020 is the year of the mask, and as if ‘mascne’ wasn’t enough, it might also be the year of the ‘mask mouth’. As dentists begin seeing patients again, they’ve got people coming in with a new oral hygiene issue from, of course, wearing masks.
The Mask Mouth Problem
Like it or not, we have to wear masks everywhere we go right now. If you want to buy groceries? Put on a mask. Go to the gym? Put on a mask. Ride public transit? Yup, mask. While the mask debate still rages between the anti-maskers and those who are pro-mask, ‘mask mouth’ is something that we will all have to be aware of. (1)
So what is mask mouth?
“We’re seeing inflammation in people’s gums that have been healthy forever, and cavities in people who have never had them before,” says dentist and co-founder of Manhattan Dental Dr. Rob Ramondi. (1)
After seeing this in about 50% of their patients, Dr. Ramondi and his colleagues dubbed it mask mouth. It is causing all sorts of dental issues for people, including (1):
- Decaying teeth
- Receding gums
- Extremely bad breath
All of these problems can lead to very serious health consequences, including strokes and an increased risk for heart attacks. (1)
How it Happens
There are several reasons why wearing a mask can cause dental problems:
Wearing a mask causes the mouth to become much drier than usual, as well as makes for an ideal environment for bacteria to build up in. Dr. Marc SClafani, another co-founder of Manhattan Dental, says much of this has to do with how wearing a mask changes the way we breathe. (1)
“People tend to breathe through their mouth instead of through their nose while wearing a mask…The mouth breathing is causing the dry mouth, which leads to a decrease in saliva — and saliva is what fights the bacteria and cleanses your teeth.” (1)
Saliva is also important for neutralizing acid in the mouth. Without that, you are at a greater risk of tooth decay and gum disease. (1)
People tend to drink less water while wearing a mask. Many have also drunk more coffee and alcohol while in lockdown, which adds to both the dehydration in the mouth and the acidity. (1)
The Bright Side
On a positive note, dentists are seeing an uptick in patients thanks to the bad breath caused by mask-wearing. This is a good thing because it means more people are making their oral health a priority. (1)
“Patients are coming into us like, ‘Wow, my breath smells, I need a cleaning.’ [But] when you smell the bad breath, you either already have periodontal disease or you have a lot of bacteria that’s sitting on your tongue because of dry mouth,” says Sclafani. (1)
How to Prevent Mask Mouth
Preventing mask mouth is really quite simple (1):
- Drink more water
- Decrease caffeine consumption
- Use a humidifier in your home
- Use alcohol-free mouthwash
- Scrape your tongue when brushing
- Don’t smoke
- Breathe through your nose
Essentially, some basic oral hygiene plus being more conscious about what you consume in a day will do the trick.
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