There’s no doubt that the current pandemic has drastically altered our lives. As we ease out of lockdown, many of us are tentatively leaving the relative safety of our homes to venture out into the world again. You’ve probably started shopping again, maybe eaten in a restaurant or started going back to the gym. But have you visited your dentist? If not, you may want to make an appointment.

In an effort to stay safe while we are out and about, most of us are donning face masks. Since face masks have become highly recommended, if not mandated, dentists have noticed an uptick in the number of phone calls from patients complaining about bad breath. They have also seen an increase in other oral health problems since the pandemic began, such as cavities, inflammation and gum disease. So, what’s going on? The problem seems to be that while wearing a face mask, people are more likely to breathe through their mouth than their nose.

Breathing through your mouth may seem innocent enough, and it makes sense. Masks can make it feel as if it’s harder to breathe, so you automatically start breathing through your mouth to bring in more air. But doing this regularly decreases the amount of saliva in your mouth. This is a problem because saliva plays an essential role in our oral health. It works with bacteria naturally found in our mouths, bathing the teeth, washing away food particles and keeping our mouths feeling fresh and comfortable. When your mouth is dry, this process doesn’t happen.

After wearing your mask for any length of time, you will inevitably start to re-breathe air from your exhalations. It’s at this point you may notice that your breath isn’t quite as fresh as you thought it was. Dry mouth is a known cause of halitosis, the medical term for bad breath. These odor particles can also become infused in the mask, exasperating the problem. It’s become known as “mask mouth” among medical personnel. You must wash your masks as often as possible, especially if you wear it for an extended period of time. Not only will it keep your mask smelling fresh, but it also removes germs that can cause you (and others!) to get sick.

Dry mouth also causes plaque to build up more quickly on the surface of your teeth. This buildup leads to an increased risk of cavities, inflammation and gum disease. There are some steps you can take to reduce the problems caused by mask mouth. As always, make sure you’re brushing your teeth at least twice a day, and be sure to floss. Try to breathe through your nose if you can. Be sure you drink lots of fluids during the day. Try sucking on sugar-free hard candy to increase saliva production. But most important, keep up with your dental cleanings and exams. During your visit, ask your dental clinic about other ways to mitigate the effects of mask mouth.

If you’re worried about going to the dentist in the middle of this pandemic, rest assured that all medical health professionals take the health of their patients and employees very seriously. Everyone here at Gentle Dentistry is taking every precaution possible to ensure your safety.

Masks will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future, and mask mouth is an unexpected and unfortunate side effect. Take the time to prioritize your dental health now to avoid more severe problems in the future. If you’re overdue for a cleaning or exam, call our dental office today and make an appointment. We’ll explain our safety protocols and make sure you feel perfectly safe.

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