Although the science surrounding mask use was uncertain for a long time, it now seems to be settled: wearing masks can significantly reduce the spread of coronavirus. This lets us be safer when doing the things we want and need to do. If mask wearing is the price we pay for getting back to a more normal life, then most of us are prepared to do it.

Unfortunately, mask wearing can have some negative side effects, as we’re finding. One of these is the reported rise of “mask mouth”: increases in oral diseases linked to wearing masks. What causes mask mouth? How can you avoid it? As people who have spent a lot of time wearing masks, the dentists and staff at BKS Dental know it can be done safely, if done wisely. 

Woman sitting while wearing a mask and sitting outside

What Is “Mask Mouth”?

Basically, mask mouth is a rise in cavities and gum disease linked to wearing a mask for long periods on a daily basis. 

So far, mask mouth is an anecdotal condition. This means that it’s one we’re hearing talk about and observing a little in our practice, but isn’t so widespread or so well studied that it has a formal description. 

In fact, we’re not even sure that mask mouth is a real thing. While we are seeing some people with more cavities and gum disease than expected, we’re not sure it’s linked to mask wear. After all, our office was also closed for a while to routine preventive care, and maybe we’re seeing the impact of that now. 

But since it’s possible that mask wear is impacting our patients’ oral health, we wanted to talk about it and how to avoid problems. 

What Could Cause Mask Mouth?

Assuming that mask mouth is real, it seems that there are three likely causes of it:

  • Mouth breathing
  • Dehydration
  • Changes in oral habits

People could be breathing through their mouth more often while wearing a mask because they’re trying to increase their supply of oxygen. Remember: nasal breathing is normal, and breathing through your mouth regularly can impact more than your oral health. Nasal breathing helps us develop and maintain a healthy configuration of our teeth and jaws. But in terms of oral health, the problem is that mouth breathing dries out your mouth. Saliva is vital to the health of your mouth. It fights bacteria, keeps acid from building up, and even repairs your teeth.

Another potential cause of mask mouth is people not drinking as much water or other beverages as they used to. When you have to pull down your mask in order to drink, you might just not bother. Drinking less liquid and maintaining your normal routine can lead to dehydration. Dehydration in turn causes dry mouth. 

But it’s not just drinking habits that are impacted by mask wear. Some people are changing their oral care habits. Some people neglect care because mask wearing and distancing means others aren’t seeing their teeth or smelling their breath. It could be simple things like skipping that quick brush or not chewing your sugar-free gum after lunch. Over time, these changes can impact your oral health. 

Avoiding Mask Mouth

So what do you do to avoid oral health problems linked to mask wear? Here are a few steps. 

Make sure you’re breathing through your nose even when you’re wearing a mask. If you feel stifled, consider getting a different mask. There are many effective styles, and some are easier to breathe in than others. 

Make sure you’re drinking enough water on a regular basis. We know that it’s harder to absentmindedly sip as you used to do, so maybe it’s time to become more intentional about it. Note that there’s no single set amount of water that you need to drink in a day, but be aware of dehydration signs and increase consumption until you’re well hydrated. 

And, of course, maintain good oral hygiene habits. Just because you aren’t showing your smile as much, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taking care of it. 

Do You Have Cavities or Gum Disease in Fort Atkinson?

At BKS Dental in Fort Atkinson, we want to help our patients maintain good oral health as part of maintaining their overall health. This includes keeping your mouth healthy while wearing a mask to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. 

If you suspect you have cavities or gum disease that needs treatment, please call (920) 563-7323 today for an appointment with a dentist at BKS Dental in Fort Atkinson.