Ann Arbor, Mi- Covid-19 has been causing a whole host of problems for dentists and dental patients alike. Decreased dental appointments, lack of PPE, increased and the shift from electronic drills to hand tools are all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the strain that 2020 has brought upon dentists, assistants and patients in general. However, there is another added layer of complication that has arisen from these troubling times, and it has been given a name.
"Mask Mouth" is a relatively new side effect that comes with the combination of wearing a mask over your face for a long period of time and poor dental hygiene. What sort of phenomenon is this, and if it is an issues, what can we do to head it off and still keep ourselves safe from spreading the virus?
What is Mask Mouth?
Mask mouth is a newly coined term that pertains to a combination of conditions including wearing a mask for long periods of time, that lead to sped up periodontitis and gingivitis. In other words, because our mouths are blocked by masks, there is an increase in oral bacteria that causes bad breath and tooth decay.
According to New York Post, a website that interviewed a dentist on the topic, Dr. Marc Sclafani "People tend to breathe through their mouth instead of through their nose while wearing a mask,” says 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.”He adds that “saliva is also what neutralizes acid in the mouth and helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease." People’s tendency to drink less water while masked up, as well as consume more coffee and alcohol during lockdown, have also added to the widespread dehydration he’s seeing."
Causes of Mask Mouth
If you look at the quote above you start to get a clearer picture of what factors are speeding up the tooth decay under the mask. These factors include:
Mouth Breathing Under the Mask
Lack of Saliva
Drinking Less Water
Coffee and Alcohol Consumption
With all of these factors, it creates a perfect storm for breeding bacteria. Because not only are dentists saying that a lack of saliva is making bacteria breed more easily, but the added sugars and a decrease in drinking water both feeds the bacteria and decreases any chances of it washing out. So what should we do if dentists are saying that the masks are increasing our dental issues?
At first glance it sounds like anti-maskers are finally given a reason not to wear them in public. They would most likely go out of their way to point to this term and say " See, we shouldn't wear them at all!" The problem is that this type of thinking is still short sighted. Wearing a mask in public spaces does reduce the spread of disease and has been an effective measure against Covid-19, The Flu, and other viruses that are transmitted through our mouths and saliva. When you combine it with other preventative measures such as frequent hand washing and social distancing, it is even more effective.
What we need is to implement a series of solutions that keep sanitary conditions in mind. So, what does that look like?
Solutions for Mask Mouth
For starters, what we need to consider is how clean we are keeping our masks in the first place. A contaminated mask is more dangerous and less useful than not wearing one at all. So, if you are wearing disposable ones, you need to get rid of them when you are done with your outing. If you are wearing a cloth reusable one, you should make a point to put them through the wash or at least get them disinfected before you wear it again.
Another thing to consider is how often you are giving yourself breaks in between wearing them. It is okay to remove them in the privacy of your own home, or vehicle. As long as you are not surrounded by people in close quarters and in enclosed buildings, you should be able to take the occasional break to get some water or at least change your concentration from breathing through your nose to your mouth for a little while.
Then there is just being mindful of your own dental hygiene. There is a strong possibility that prolonged quarantine, combined with the new remote lifestyle and anxiety that comes from the situation has thrown you and your family of their routine. So, take the time to get back on it and make sure that you and yours are brushing their teeth.
Right now times are tough, and it can be easy to let things overwhelm you when you are in a prolonged bad situation. Still, you should do what you must to take care of yourself, whether that looks like a trip to the dentists, getting some extra sleep, or making sure you eat healthy. This situation won't last forever. We just need to do our best and ride it out.