The 3 signs you're suffering embarrassing ‘mask mouth’ – and how to treat it

A MASK can prevent you from passing on or catching the coronavirus.

But experts say long-term use could cause “mask mouth” – or in other words bad breath or a furry tongue.

Although they don’t discourage people from masking up to avoid the virus, they have urged for better oral hygiene. 

The symptoms of “mask mouth”, according to Colgate, include:

1. A dry mouth

Dry mouth is called xerostomia, and it occurs when you don't have enough saliva to keep your mouth moist. 

This could be because mask wearing alters the way you breathe, causing more rapid or shallow breaths, according to one study.

Breathing out of your mouth decreases saliva, leading to a dry mouth.

Not only does dry mouth make it difficult to eat, swallow, and speak, but it also increases your chance of developing tooth decay and other oral infections.

Saliva plays an important role in your oral health because it washes away food debris, defending the teeth from decay.

This includes sugar, which helps bacteria to thrive.

Sugars will also have an effect on the build-up of a white or yellow tongue coating.

2. Bad breath

Dry mouth, described above, is a key driver of bad breath.

If you’re wearing a mask for a long period of time – such as your commute to work or in the gym – it can cause dehydration if you are drinking less fluids than usual.

Dehydration can leave you with bad breath or increase the risk of tooth decay or mouth infections. 

3. Bleeding gums 

Bleeding gums are a key sign of gingivitis, otherwise known as gum disease.

Wearing a mask may impact the type and amount of bacteria in your mouth.

You tend to recycle air when wearing a mask, trapping more carbon dioxide in your mouth than usual.

While this isn’t harmful, it could increase your oral microbiome's acidity, which could cause plaque build-up.

This might put you at risk for infections or inflammatory conditions like gum disease.

Ignoring the problem

Dentists say Brits may have become slack with their oral hygiene because they are able to hide it with a face covering.

One study from the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry revealed that mask wearing meant people were brushing their teeth less often.

Dr Viren Vithlani, specialist periodontist at MyMouth leading provider of oral hygiene products, said: “It’s alarming to see that certain people are using mask wearing as a reason for their poor oral hygiene and not visiting their dentist or hygienist.

“When you neglect oral hygiene, such as tooth brushing and tongue cleaning, you may be jeopardising your future oral health, and subjecting yourself to issues such as gum disease, cavities and even heart disease, diabetes and in the most extreme of cases, cancer.”

The consequences of poor dental care goes far beyond decaying teeth and sore gums.

Left untreated, gum disease has been linked to other diseases – including coronavirus itself.

With two thirds of adults still planning on wearing masks, according to the Office for National Statistics, it’s time to reassess how they could be jeopardising your oral hygiene.

How can you prevent “mask mouth”

To prevent mask mouth, stick to the basic rules of good oral hygiene.

That means:

  • Brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day
  • Floss once a day to lift debris between the teeth
  • Brush the tongue to remove debris
  • Keep hydrated by drinking fluids through the day – but limit alcohol and caffeine which is dehydrating 
  • Watch out for sensitivities in the mouth which may signal a problem

Dr Vithlani said: “If you’re someone who needs to wear masks for prolonged periods of time, such as those who work long retail shifts or work in cosmetics and the hairdressing industry, you should enhance your oral hygiene while remembering the basics.”

It’s also recommended to stick to a healthy diet in order to care for your mouth.

Surveys have shown that people have put on weight during lockdowns, which may imply they are eating unhealthier.

Sugar is a key driver of bad oral hygiene – and dentists’ enemy. 

Experts at the British Dental Association (BDA) have suggested that a deterioration in oral health could be down to a lockdown diet, rather than the use of masks.

The BDA's scientific adviser Professor Damien Walmsley said in August 2020: "Recent claims on 'mask mouth' are risible. East Asian societies – where face coverings have been ubiquitous for decades – are not confronting an epidemic of decay."

Experienced dental professional Dr Sameet Hindocha from My Online Dentist reminded people to replace their face coverings regularly.

He said: “When you breathe, you expel aerosol which contains bacteria and sulphides (or volatile sulphur compounds) which, if you wear your mask for hours at a time, will inevitably become dirty and rather smelly.

“Make sure to give your mask regular cleanings to avoid this issue.”

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