Finding out just how bad your breath is while wearing a mask during the pandemic?
If you’ve found yourself wishing you’d popped a breath mint before masking up, you’re not alone.
“Most people aren’t used to wearing a face mask, so those first few times putting one on during the COVID-19 pandemic might have been an unhappy surprise,” says Austin Dentist Samantha Hollinger, DMD. “The solution might be as simple as tuning up your oral hygiene routine or cutting back on certain foods. But if that doesn’t help, that bad breath could be telling you something about your health.”
Make sure you’re wearing a clean mask. That funky odor could simply be a reminder to change or clean your mask.
Some foods and drinks can cause bad breath for as long as three days after you’ve consumed them. Common culprits are coffee, garlic, and onions. A low-carb diet can make your breath smell like rotten fruit. A diet high in sweets does not sweeten your breath. On the contrary, the bacteria in your mouth simply adore sugar. Bacteria break down sugars, food, and other debris into smelly compounds. And alcohol packs a double punch of drying out your mouth while providing sugar.
When you’re new to wearing a mask, you may find yourself breathing through your mouth, which dries up your saliva. Saliva acts as your mouth’s washing machine, so, dry mouth can leave breath pretty yucky. Conditions like sleep apnea and sinus congestion can also turn you into a mouth breather. Because dry mouth is potentially harmful, it’s a good idea to try to get to the bottom of what’s causing mouth breathing. In the meantime, chew sugar-free gum, especially with xylitol. It’s an anti-bacterial that freshens your breath and improves saliva flow.
You may think your mouth is clean, but try this: run dental floss between your teeth and then smell the floss. If it stinks, sorry, you have bad breath. Make sure you’re brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing at least once a day. Consider switching to an electric toothbrush, which is much more effective. “The bacteria in your mouth double in population every eight to 12 hours and when you brush your teeth with a manual tooth brush for two minutes you remove only about 41% of those bacteria,” notes Dr. Hollinger. Don’t forget to brush your tongue, and before bed use a mouthwash that contains cetylpyridinium chloride or chlorhexidine, which kill bacteria. Avoid mouthwash containing alcohol.
Some medications can cause dry mouth and smelly breath, both prescription (pain killers, antidepressants, blood pressure, and cholesterol meds, to name few) and over-the-counter (think: decongestants).
Aside from the odor of whatever you’re smoking, the very act of smoking dries out your mouth.
Certain medical issues can cause bad breath. Heartburn, even if it seems mild to you, can be causing acid reflux from your stomach back up to your throat and mouth. Fruity or sweet-smelling breath can be the result of diabetic conditions. Kidney failure can give you ammonia breath. And liver disease can make your breath strong, sweet, and musty. Heart and lung diseases can also cause bad breath.
If you don’t fit into any of the above categories and bad breath persists even with good daily hygiene, it’s time to make a dental appointment. Gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral conditions can also produce bad breath. Most mouth diseases are caused by out-of-control bacteria, which creates its own stench. The decay or other disease process can cause further bad odors. A regular cleaning at the dentist may be all you need, and if the dentist discovers other oral conditions, you can make a plan for treatment.
One final note: if you’re thinking that you can ignore bad breath because your mask blocks it, don’t. “It’s never an idea to ignore dental issues,” says Dr. Hollinger. “That mask breath could be trying to tell you something, and dental issues can escalate really quickly.”
Scientists expect the COVID-19 virus to remain a concern for months to come, so while staying #SafeAtHome, learn how you can stay on top of your oral health.
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