It’s no secret that face masks are one of the simplest and most effective ways to protect yourself from any virus. But did you know that wearing a face mask can also have some unexpected effects on your teeth?
That’s right – while they may keep germs away, they might also be doing some harm to your pearly whites. For starters, wearing a face mask for long periods of time can cause moisture buildup in the mouth, which can lead to halitosis (or bad breath) and tooth decay. If you wear a mask all day and don’t take it off at night, bacteria builds up in your mouth creating an environment where cavities thrive.
Additionally, when you’re talking or breathing, your breath is being recycled back into the mask and can cause a buildup of plaque on your teeth in the areas where it’s constantly rubbing against them. Additionally, wearing a face mask all day causes friction between the material and your skin, which can lead to dryness and even chapping around the mouth area – not only uncomfortable but also at risk for infection if you get cuts or scratches.
How are dental conditions can impact other aspects of our health?
Your teeth can impact your body. However, sometimes it’s also the other way around. It may be that our underlying medical issues or lifestyle choices actually impact the health of our mouths. And if there’s one major lifestyle change that has impacted all of us over the past year, it was mask-wearing.
Now, mask-wearing was and is super important, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes even when we take steps to protect ourselves, there can be secondary issues that pop up without even realizing it. In this case, I’m talking about a decline in our oral health “mask mouth” and a host of other unwanted side effects, such as bad breath and tartar buildup.
With so many of us being at home more alone with ourselves or with our families and our houses, a lot of people subconsciously cut back on their oral hygiene routines. Maybe we weren’t brushing our teeth as often because we were meeting on Zoom instead of face to face. Or perhaps we didn’t brush our teeth that extra time each day since it didn’t feel important to get rid of that bad breath before heading back into the office after lunch, because the office is our computer in our living room.
And even if we were going out into the world, lots of people just weren’t worried at all about the appearance of their teeth or the smell of their breath because they knew they were just going to throw on a mask anyway and nobody would be able to tell. So why even bother? Whatever your reason may have been, let’s face it, our oral hygiene habits are part of a routine. And when something like covid throws off our normal routine, it’s sometimes hard to get back on that routine. It’s not that you don’t want to, but maybe some things are just less of a priority.
Either way, there are also side effects of physically wearing a mask all day long. Now, for me, working in dentistry, we’re used to wearing a mask all day long at work. We’ve mastered the art of keeping our glasses from getting fogged up, not feeling like we’re suffocating and all the other things that you’ve heard people complain about. That being said, there are still some downsides. For example, when our mouths are covered, we tend to drink less water. And as you know, we need water to stay hydrated and healthy and our mouths need to stay lubricated and clean. If you’re not drinking enough water, your body is naturally going to make less saliva, which can cause dry mouth.
The drier your mouth is, the more likely you are to have bad breath and cavities. So if you already had a high risk of tooth decay or cavities before covid not drinking enough water while wearing a mask probably made it even worse. Even once public places started reopening, most places still kept their water fountains closed. So if you weren’t carrying your own water bottle and putting in the effort to hydrate yourself all day, you probably weren’t drinking enough. And in turn, like I said, not enough water can result in you having a higher risk of cavities.
So what can we do to counteract the oil side effects of mask-wearing?
First off, like I keep saying, make a plan to drink more water. This one is really easy. You just have to consciously make a point to really do it. Just grab a reusable water bottle in the morning and fill it straight from the tap. Municipal tap water has regulated fluoride levels, making it the best water for your teeth. Tap water is much better than bottled, so if you can drink tap water.
Second, revamp your oral hygiene routine. If you have to set reminders during the day, do it. Make sure you’re brushing at least twice a day for two minutes each time and flossing at least once a day. But really, with lots of us still working from home these days, we need to make a point to brush our teeth midday after lunch as well. So aiming for three times a day after each meal is the best.
Third. And lastly, consider chewing gum with xylitol in it. Xylitol is scientifically proven to reduce plaque levels on your teeth, which can lower your risk of tooth decay. Plus, the chewing action will actually help stimulate saliva flow in your mouth to combat dry mouth, which in turn also reduces your chance of getting a cavity.
And before we go, I have to quickly tell you about the dental percs to mask-wearing because there’s pros and cons to everything, right?
So a huge pro is that if you’ve been thinking about getting braces, dental veneers or other cosmetic treatment now is one of the best times to do it. While masks are still a thing because nobody is going to see you’re in-between stages, or if you have food stuck under your braces saying it’s a dot in all, don’t let protecting yourself from covid to tear you from dental home care make a point to stick to a plan so that both your body and your mouth are healthy.