The gross reason your face mask smells so bad

If you're a healthcare worker, following CDC guidelines to wear a face mask while out in public, or headed to Costco, where face coverings are now required, you may notice an icky side effect from having your mouth covered for a long period of time. We're talking about bad breath, and Dr. Sean Stannard, a dentist in Michigan, says more people are noticing their own breath in light of having it trapped inside their face masks during the pandemic (via Fox 2 Detroit).

"That odor that you smell is something called VSCs — or variable sulfur compound," Stannard explains, adding, it's a gas produced "by the bacteria that is breaking down the food products that are left between the teeth or below the gum line." And now that your breath isn't freely flowing into the air, it has nowhere to go but into your own face, where you smell it and realize, um, eww.

Perhaps you do what most people would and pop a stick of spearmint gum. Except Stannard says this won't be effective to freshen your breath behind that mask. "Mints and things like that are not going to help the situation because the increased sugar speeds up the bacteria activity and it's only going to make matters worse," he told the outlet. So what to do?

Don't feel bad about your bad breath

First, know you aren't alone if you have bad breath. According to Medical News Today, up to 25 percent of people suffer from this common condition. CNN reports there are multiple reasons your mouth may not smell minty-clean, ranging from a low-carb diet, to being a mouth breather, to taking certain medications. Having a dry mouth, or an underlying medical condition can also cause your breath to be, well, bad.

Of course, there are ways to combat bad breath, and chief among them is practicing proper dental hygiene. Stannard notes what you eat can also play a role in banishing bad breath. "Apples, carrots, vegetables, crisp foods that will increase saliva flow and sort of naturally clean your teeth will freshen your breath naturally," he advised.

Finally, remember that you are the only one being "tortured" by your bad breath in this case. And hopefully you can return home soon to floss, brush your teeth, and use a whole mouthful of mouthwash.