What is mask mouth and how can you deal with it?

Our mouths have not had a good run during the coronavirus pandemic.

Firstly, with dentists closing for several months in lockdown (and now having reopened with a backlog and long waiting lists, unless you are willing to fork out the cash for private care).

And now, there is apparently a new issue to worry about: mask mouth.

As you probably understand from the phrase itself, it relates to oral hygiene affected by donning a mask.

Before we go on, let us make it clear that we are not saying you shouldn’t wear a mask because of teeth concerns – please, wear masks and be safe.

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Let’s continue.

What is mask mouth?

Two dentists in the US recently reported that 50% of the patients at their clinic, One Manhattan Dental, suffer from mask mouth.

The theory is that consistent mask-wearing could cause a build-up of bacteria or dry mouth, which in turn could lead to issues such as bad breath, decaying teeth or receding gum lines.

‘People tend to breathe through their mouth instead of through their nose while wearing a mask,’ said Dr. Marc Sclafani.

‘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.’

However, not all dentists believe that mask mouth is a real thing.

Dr Kalpesh Bohara, a dentist at Dental Suite, tells us that the actual concern here is likely that patients are practising bad oral hygiene in general – rather than the mask causing it.

‘Breathing through the mouth whilst wearing a mask can certainly dry it out, but I’d question whether this would lead to bad breath or periodontal disease,’ Dr Kalpesh Bohara, a dentist at Dental Suite, tells us.

‘Healthcare professionals have worn masks for hours at a time during their daily procedures, long before Covid-19 ever reached our shores and I’ve never come across a case where mask mouth was a problem. 

‘Breathing through the nose may alleviate a dry mouth but of course we also need to talk with our masks on, so it’s not always possible.

‘However I suspect that, rather than a mask loosely covering the airways, more care generally needed to be taken by the patients concerned over in the US, with regards to their oral health. ‘

Dentist Shaun Sellars agrees.

‘In short, mask mouth is not a thing anyone needs to be worried about,’ he says.

‘There is no way that wearing a mask for a relatively short period of time (or even an extended one) will have any detrimental effect on the oral health of the average person.’

So, mask mouth: likely not a problem.

However, for those concerned about their teeth and gums, Dr Bohara shares some simple tips on how to look after them.

‘If you’re worried about your mask affecting the smell of your breath or causing gum disease, my advice would be to follow the same routine as always – try and give up or at least cut down on smoking, avoid snacking, brush twice daily, remember to floss and drink plenty of water,’ he says.

‘This is generally excellent advice which applies whether you wear a mask for considerable periods of time or whether you’re in your own home. 

‘A healthy mouth will always smell and look great, regardless.’

Another option is to try to get an appointment in the diary with a dentist.

Dr Jabir Kazi, a dental surgeon, adds: ‘Look after your diet and keep well hydrated.

‘Modern diets are full of sugars and low in vitamins and minerals, which do not help your oral health or general health one bit.

‘Keeping hydrated will keep your mouth at the correct moisture level and can help stave off bad breath

‘But there could be other issues that are causing bad breath, which are not connected to teeth care.

‘Do note that some bad breath can be caused from other conditions that your GP/gastroenterologist may be more suited to sorting out as opposed to your dentist.’

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