2020 is the year of the mask, and while wearing face coverings while in public is a non-negotiable, many of us have found out the hard way that keeping masks on for too long can result in all kinds of small calamities (see: maskne and mouth fungus). And most recently, I was shocked and horrified to learn about “mask mouth”—a term used to describe the pretty gross ways in which your oral hygiene suffers even in the most breathable face mask.
“Mask mouth is a thing!” says Michaela Tozzi, DMD, a board-certified doctor of general and cosmetic dentistry. “When people wear masks, they tend to breathe through their mouth exclusively. This in turn leads to dry mouth because there’s less saliva.” Mouth breathing, says Dr. Tozzi, exacerbates the presence of bacteria that come with a whole slew of unpleasant side effects. “Our saliva is the mouth’s immune system. It keeps the bacteria in our mouth balanced. Less saliva equals an abundance of bacteria which leads to bad breath, increased risk for cavities, and periodontal issues,” she adds.
“Mask mouth is a thing!” —Michaela Tozzi, DMD
Activities that require wearing your go-to mask for an hour or more—like going to the grocery store or traveling via plane—will leave your mouth especially dry, but Dr. Tozzi says that you can do a few things the moment you get home to protect your oral hygiene. First: Drink water and grab a mint. “If you have to wear masks for an extended period of time, mints or gum with xylitol will help stimulate saliva flow because xylitol is an anti-bacterial,” she says. Pür, Trident, and Epic Dental all offer gum or mints with this bacteria-fighting ingredient. Jennifer Jablow, DDS, adds that you should also refrain from acidic sodas, sports drinks, and iced teas in favor of high pH water like Smartwater or Essentia.
It goes without saying that your oral care routine should also be approached with extra due diligence these days. Dr. Jablow recommends spending a little bit more time focusing on the flossing and brushing. “We need to be even more diligent about our home care,” says Dr. Jablow. “Brush two times a day with a sonic toothbrush, use a pH-balanced toothpaste with zinc ions to kill bad breath at its source like Intelliwhite Carbon Power Clean, and use water floss with a capful of peroxide in its tank.” The diluted peroxide will fan out and kill the bacteria creeping under your gum line that otherwise might cause inflammation.
While there’s not much you can do while wearing a mask to prevent mask mouth, Dr. Tozzi’s last and final pro tip is to practice breathing through your nose while sporting yours (which is actually… a really hard skill). This will keep your mouth from drying up and letting the bacteria spread. So consider this your invitation to have a meditative moment next time you strap on your Corona-wear. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale (but through your nose).
BTW: Here’s what a derm says will happen to your skin if you wear a mask for too long:
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