Healthy Smiles By Rita Tempel, DDS – This article was published in the Gettysburg Times, May 20, 2021.
Is there such a thing as “mask mouth?”
In today’s column, I will address this timely, popular question—and explain how the pandemic is affecting our dental health.
Masks provide a barrier that keeps respiratory droplets from spreading to others. The CDC’s guidelines call for mask wearing in public places as a critical key to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
While masks can protect our overall health, are they affecting our dental health? I’ve had many patients ask if “mask mouth” is truly a syndrome.
Some patients describe “mask mouth” as:
- Feeling like their mouth is constantly dry
- Experiencing their own bad breath
While the American Dental Association (ADA) does not recognize “mask mouth” as a syndrome, some dentists—including myself—are fielding questions from patients. So the short answer is “no,” masks are not causing these conditions—however, wearing masks may increase your awareness of dry mouth or bad breath.
First, let’s address dry mouth. Also called xerostomia, dry mouth is basically an inadequate flow of saliva. It’s often experienced by people who take specific medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, pain killers, or diuretics. Why is saliva so important to our dental health? It’s your primary defense against tooth decay because it maintains the health of your mouth’s soft and hard tissues.
“Saliva washes away food and other debris, neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth and provides disease-fighting substances throughout the mouth, offering first-line protection against microbial invasion or overgrowth that might lead to disease,” according to the American Dental Association.
You can stimulate your saliva and help alleviate dry mouth by:
- Drinking water frequently
- Eating healthy foods that require chewing—like carrots or apples
- Having sugar-free gum or hard candies
Now let’s tackle a subject many of us like to avoid: bad breath. While masks don’t contribute to bad breath, they may make you more aware of your own bad breath. What causes bad breath? The offenders include: odors from the food we eat, bacteria naturally found in your mouth, and smoking. If bad breath is something you are constantly noticing, it may be a warning sign of advanced gum disease, which is caused by plaque—a cavity-causing bacteria.
Tips for sweetening that bad breath include:
- Be sure to brush and floss your teeth twice a day. This is the number one way to get rid of the bacteria causing your bad breath!
- Quit smoking to not only improve your breath, but your overall health as well.
- Regular dental checkups can help stop bad breath from becoming a more serious issue such as gum disease.
But the pandemic is causing much bigger dental concerns than mask mouth.
Stress is leading to dental issues in record numbers. According to the American Dental Association (ADA) Health Policy Institute, more than 70% of dentists surveyed say they are seeing an increase in patients experiencing teeth grinding and clenching as a result of stress. And, more than 60% of dentists are treating more patients with chipped and cracked teeth, as well as symptoms of TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder) such as headaches and jaw pain.
“As the pandemic continues, dentists are seeing stress-related dental conditions more and more,” said Marcelo Araujo, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., ADA chief science officer. “It’s more important than ever for people to maintain their dental health, including seeing the dentist regularly to address any issues that could have long-term impact.”
Dr. Rita Tempel is an Accredited Member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and owner of Gettysburg Smiles Cosmetic & Family Dentistry as well as a Diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine and owner of Sweet Dreams Gettysburg, 2018 York Road, Gettysburg. For more information, see GettysburgSmiles.com, follow @ritatempeldds on Instagram, or like her Facebook page @Gettysburgsmiles or call 717-339-0033.