Mask Mouth Tips [How to Avoid Bad Breath & Cavities]

Mask mouth is sour breath caused by wearing a face mask. It’s not just annoying bad breath — it can be a sign of bigger dental health problems.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, face coverings have become a mainstay here in New York and across the globe. With increased mask wearing for extended periods of time, people are visiting their dentist for bad breath more than ever before.

Mask use discourages the spread of the coronavirus, but encourages mouth breathing, which increases the dryness of your mouth. This can lead to a buildup of harmful bacteria, followed by all sorts of oral health issues.

Wearing a mask may also discourage drinking water, which is good for your dental health.

Much like “maskne” (acne due to mask use), “mask mouth” has become a new oral hygiene issue.

Below, you will learn about the symptoms, long-term effects, and prevention of mask mouth.

Symptoms of “Mask Mouth”

  1. Dry mouth
  2. Bad breath (AKA halitosis)
  3. Increased risk of tooth decay
  4. Increased risk of gum disease

What are the long-term dental health effects of wearing a mask?

The main problem with mask mouth is dry mouth. Mask use promotes mouth breathing, which leads to dry mouth.

Dry mouth leads to long-term adverse health effects:

  • When your mouth is dry, you produce less saliva. Saliva not only washes out some bacteria and food particles from in between your teeth, saliva can directly discourage the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Without saliva, these harmful bacteria thrive. This may lead to tooth decay (cavities) and gum disease (gingivitis).
  • Mask mouth means an increased risk of candidiasis (fungal infection).
  • Mask mouth also leads to an increased risk of angular cheilitis (inflammation in the corners of your mouth).

Masks should not be worn by people who have difficulty breathing, children under 2 years old, or those who are incapacitated.

Prevent Damage from Mask Mouth

There are 5 ways to prevent mask mouth and any related complications:

  1. Hydrate — Drink copious amounts of water. Wearing a mask leads to dry mouth, which destabilizes the natural balance of bacteria in your mouth, creating an imbalance in the oral microbiome, which has been linked to not only oral health problems, but systemic health problems. Drink water to reduce your risk of dry mouth.
  2. Eliminate — Completely eliminate sugars, especially refined sugars, from your diet. They can be “gasoline on the fire” for an acidic environment of the oral microbiome. Go for the greens: celery, kale, and sweeten with an apple if you want. (Also, garlic and onions can make your breath smell, but this kind of bad breath isn’t the same kind of health problem as mask mouth.)
  3. Propagate — Promote a healthy, balanced microbiome in the mouth with Revitin Oral Care.
  4. Alternate — Change your mask daily. Purchase several masks so you can throw some in the wash while you wear others.
  5. Respirate — Take your mask off where appropriate and practice deep breathing. Do yoga, meditate, and focus on your breath with your mask off.

This is all assuming you maintain good oral hygiene, which is the bedrock of oral health and preventing bad breath.

How to Properly Wear Your Face Mask

How can I properly wear a facemask? According to the CDC, here is how to properly wear a facemask:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after putting on your facemask.
  2. Put the mask over your nose and mouth.
  3. Secure the mask under your chin.
  4. Fit the mask as snugly as comfortably possible against the sides of your face. (Beards may make this difficult.)
  5. Make sure you can breathe easily.

The CDC does not recommend masks with an exhalation vent.

The CDC also recommends you not touch your mask while you’re wearing it. If you do, wash your hand right away. Only touch the ear loops or the strings tied behind your head to adjust the fit of your mask.

How do you dispose of face masks? If you need to dispose of a mask because it has been spoiled or has ripped or torn, place the mask in a plastic bag. Throw the plastic bag in the garbage. Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of your mask.

Optimize Your Oral Hygiene

To follow an optimal oral hygiene routine:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day.
  • Floss in between each tooth every day. This is essential to dental hygiene.
  • Rinse your mouth with water after a meal. (Note that antibacterial mouthwashes may harm your oral microbiome and worsen your oral health.)
  • Optional: scrape your tongue.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid excess alcohol.
  • Cut out excess caffeine.
  • Steer clear of sugary foods and starchy foods.
  • Optional: coconut oil pulling has been shown to prevent tooth decay and periodontal disease without harming your oral microbiome.
  • Breathe through your nose, not your mouth, whenever possible.
  • Visit your dentist at least twice a year.

The Bottom Line

Mask mouth is a side effect of increased mask use to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

If you have mask mouth, it’s possible that you already had oral health problems. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to fix them!

Your diet is the key to health from top to bottom. The number one defense you can use against disease, including oral disease, is a nutrient-dense, low-sugar diet.

Flossing then brushing with a soft-bristle electric toothbrush (at a 45-degree angle to your gum line) is the second-best way to promote good oral hygiene.

As for avoiding mask mouth while wearing cloth face masks or respirators or PPE to prevent the spread of COVID-19, buying multiple masks is your best bet. Wash each mask before you use it again. You can purchase masks on Amazon or from local mask makers to support your local economy.

You should also drink plenty of water, avoid sugars, and take your mask off when appropriate (in your car alone, for example) to avoid mask mouth.

Did you know? A groundbreaking 2006 study on 145,000 patients found up to a 21% reduction in healthcare costs associated with major diseases when oral health is improved. Your oral health is more important than you might think.

Click here today to set up your appointment with Rejuvenation Dentistry. We empower our patients to take control of their dental health and overall health, including mask mouth and halitosis.

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned biologic restorative dentist with more than 40 years of clinical practice experience.

He studied neuroscience at Colgate University and attended dental school at the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry where he now serves as Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care.